Court reserves judgment in gay rights v religious beliefs case


Gareth Lee v Ashers Baking Company Limited

Belfast High Court reserved judgment yesterday in the case of Gareth Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd – a case that could have wide-reaching consequences for shop owners.

Robin Allen QC, acting for gay rights activist Gareth Lee, told the court why a business should not “be allowed to break a contract with a single individual over small sums of money in a way that is tortious and in breach of equality law” irrespective of the fact that the business owner was acting on his or her religious beliefs, the Guardian reports.

Mr Lee, who regularly used Ashers bakery, claimed he felt “a lesser man” when the Christian-owned bakery cancelled his original order for a gay-themed cake.

He said the advertising leaflet promoting the service for designing images in edible icing on cakes did not suggest that the service was limited due to “religious scruples”.

Mr Lee ordered the cake to mark the election last year of the first openly LGBT mayor in Northern Ireland – Andrew Muir, an Alliance councillor for Northdown. He requested a cake design that included a “support-gay-marriage” message in icing and a logo of an organisation which promotes LGBT rights (QueerSpace).

The bakery cancelled the original order for the cake 48 hours after it had been accepted. Mr McArthur of Ashers bakery stated that they were “just trying to be faithful to the Bible” when they refused to complete the order.

The company stands accused of discrimination under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006 and the Fair Employment and Treatment Order (NI) 1998.

Judgment is reserved.

Olivia Dobbie, employment barrister at Cloisters comments:

There have been numerous cases in recent years of gay rights colliding with religious rights and the tension between the two protected groups. However, in a liberal democratic society there can be no exceptions to the prohibition on discrimination. No one is denying Christians a right to believe that homosexuality is contrary to their religion, but the law must step in to prevent such persons from discriminating in their actions towards others. The law recognises a distinction between holding a particular belief and actions taken in furtherance of that belief, which could undermine the rights of others. The principle becomes clear when you swap homosexuality for nationality. For example, if a person held a genuine religious belief that people of a particular nationality were inferior and refused to serve them in their bakery, or refused to make a cake celebrating their national holiday, on the basis that it infringed their religious belief, no one would suggest that this was acceptable.  There should be no difference for homosexuality.”

For press coverage go to:

BBC News Northern Ireland:

The Guardian News: Gay Cake Row

Ulster TV News: Gay Cake Case about commerce not faith