Bakery guilty of discrimination for refusing to make pro-gay marriage cake

Reuters / Cathal McNaughton
The Christian owners of a bakery discriminated against a gay man when they refused to make a cake with a pro-same-sex marriage slogan on it, a Northern Ireland court has found.

Ashers Baking Company, owned by a devout Christian family in Northern Ireland, was found guilty of discrimination and fined after the owners refused to bake a cake for Gareth Lee with a pro-gay marriage slogan.

Lee wanted a cake with the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie and the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” for a private event to mark International Anti-Homophobia Day.

A Belfast court ordered the business to pay damages of £500, and found it guilty of discriminating against Lee on the grounds of his sexual orientation.

The company initially accepted the order to bake the cake, but two days later contacted Lee to cancel it and refund his money.

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The gay rights activist told the court that the bakery's refusal made him feel "unworthy" and "a lesser person."

In her judgment, District Judge Isobel Brownlie said: "This is direct discrimination and there is no justification for it.”

She argued that while the bakery owners had a right to religious beliefs, "they are limited as to how they manifest them." She warned against religious beliefs dictating the law.

Since the defendants were not a religious institution, but were running a business for profit they should have baked the cake, Brownlie ruled.

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"My finding is that the defendants canceled this order as they oppose same-sex marriage for the reason that they regard it as sinful and contrary to their genuinely-held religious beliefs,” she said.

"Baking the cake was merely obeying the law and providing the plaintiff with a service."

Speaking outside Belfast County Court on Tuesday, Ashers’ general manager, Daniel McArthur, said his company was "extremely disappointed with the judgment."

"We've said from the start that our issue was with the message on the cake, not with the customer and that we didn't know what the sexual orientation of Mr Lee was, and it wasn't relevant either. We've always been happy to serve any customers who come into our shops,” he said.

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"The ruling suggests that all business owners will have to be willing to promote any cause or campaign, no matter how much they disagree with it."

In parallel to the trial, Northern Ireland’s largest political party, the Democratic Unionists, proposed the introduction of a Conscience Clause Bill to allow the withholding of services on grounds of religious belief.

This comes as Ireland is set to vote on legalizing same-sex marriage on Friday.

Instead of a parliamentary vote or a court decision, voters in the Republic of Ireland could make history by introducing same-sex marriage in the referendum.

While all main political parties support a Yes vote, the Catholic Church and many social conservatives want the public to vote No.