Bakers were within their rights to refuse to make a cake, Supreme Court rules
The UK Supreme Court in Northern Ireland has ruled in favor of a Belfast bakery who refused to make a cake for a gay man.
In 2014, Ashers Baking Company refunded gay rights activist Gareth Lee after initially accepting his cake order but later refusing it.
Lee wanted his cake to feature the slogan ‘support gay marriage,’ along with the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie.
The bakery said that support of same-sex marriage was “inconsistent” with their religious beliefs.
Following the bakery’s refusal and refund in 2014, The Northern Irish Equality Commission took up legal action insisting that the bakery was discriminating against Lee due to his sexuality.
The bakery argued that it was expressing its religious freedom.
In 2015, a Belfast court was ruled that the bakery did, in fact, infringe upon Lee’s political beliefs and sexual orientation.
Ashers Baking Company pursued appealed the decision and followed it up to the UK Supreme Court in Belfast, and the appeal began in May 2018.
Prior to the start of the Supreme Court appeal, Daniel McArthur, head of Ashers Baking Company, said, "We didn't say no because of the customer; we'd served him before, we'd serve him again.”
"It was because of the message,” said McArthur. “But some people want the law to make us support something with which we disagree."
On October 10, the Northern Irish Supreme Court overturned the 2015 decision and unanimously agreed that Ashers Baking Company was within their rights to refuse Lee’s cake.
Speaking of the unanimous decision, the court's president Lady Hale said, "They [Ashers Baking Company] would have refused to make such a cake for any customer, irrespective of their sexual orientation.”
“Their objection was to the message on the cake, not to the personal characteristics of Mr. Lee."
"Accordingly, this court holds that there was no discrimination on the ground of the sexual orientation of Mr. Lee."
Lady Hale did add, "This conclusion is not in any way to diminish the need to protect gay people and people who support gay marriage from discrimination.”
"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, religion or belief.
"But that is not what happened in this case."
Following the decision, McArthur said, "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.”
Gareth Lee, however, said, "To me, this was never about conscience or a statement. All I wanted to do was to order a cake in a shop," he said.
Lee said the ruling left him feeling like a "second-class citizen" in Northern Ireland.
The cake at the center of the controversy is now known as Northern Ireland’s ‘most expensive cake.’ Combined court fees have amounted to $592,000, while the original cost of the cake would have been £36.50 ($48).