On Wednesday, Britain’s highest court said a Northern Irish bakery’s refusal to make a cake bearing a pro-gay slogan was indeed NOT discriminatory.
In 2015, Ashers Baking in Belfast was found guilty of discrimination for refusing to make a cake for a customer with the words “Support Gay Marriage” because of the bakery owners, Daniel and Amy McArthur’s Christian beliefs.
Amy McArthur later contacted the man who requested the design and explained that the bakery would not be able to make such a cake “in conscience.”
Gareth Lee, the customer and gay rights activist, ordered the cake for a private event campaigning for same sex marriage, according to the BBC. Lee sued the company for discrimination based on political beliefs and sexual orientation.
“I know a lot of people will be glad to hear this ruling today, because this ruling protects freedom of speech and freedom of conscience for everyone,” Daniel McArthur said after the ruling, BBC reported.
But, Lee said, “To me, this was never about conscience or a statement. All I wanted to do was to order a cake in a shop.”
Although the local courts initially threw out an appeal by the bakery in 2016, the Supreme Court – the UK’s highest judicial body – overturned that ruling on Wednesday, saying that the bakers’ objection was the message on the cake, and not any personal characteristics of those who wanted the design, or anyone associated with them.
“In reaching the conclusion that there was no discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in this case, I do not seek to minimize or disparage the very real problem of discrimination against gay people,” president of the Supreme Court Lady Hale wrote in the decision.
“It is deeply humiliating, and an affront to human dignity, to deny someone a service because of that person’s race, gender, disability, sexual orientation or any of the other protected personal characteristics,” it reads. “But that is not what happened in this case and it does the project of equal treatment no favors to seek to extend it beyond its proper scope.”
“The less favorable treatment was afforded to the message not to the man. It was not as if he were being refused a job, or accommodation, or baked goods in general, because of his political opinion. The evidence was that they were quite prepared to serve him in other ways.”
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which initially backed Lee’s suit said it would further look into the implications of the ruling, according to BBC.
“There is a concern that this judgement may raise uncertainty about the application of equality law in the commercial sphere, both about what businesses can do and what customers may expect,” the organization’s chief commissioner Michael Wardlow said, according to the news agency.
In the ruling, the court cited the U.S. Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, where the owner of a Colorado-based bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.
“The important message from the Masterpiece Bakery case is that there is a clear distinction between refusing to produce a cake conveying a particular message, for any customer who wants such a cake, and refusing to produce a cake for the particular customer who wants it because of that customer’s characteristics,” the opinion reads.
“One can debate which side of the line particular factual scenarios fall. But in our case there can be no doubt,” Hale wrote. “The bakery would have refused to supply this particular cake to anyone, whatever their personal characteristics.”
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