‘Gay cake’ row: born-again Christian bakers lose court appeal

4 months, 20 days ago

Judges uphold ruling that Ashers Bakery discriminated against gay man by refusing to induce cake with pro-gay wedding slogan

A bakery in Northern Ireland owned by evangelical Christians has lost an appeal to overrule a conviction that discovered it guilty of discrimination for refusing to cook a pro-gay-marriage themed cake.

The court of appeal in Belfast on Monday upheld a previous decision last year that Ashers Bakery had discriminated against a client on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The family-owned firm in the original occurrence was also ordered to pay 500 compensation to the local gay rights activist Gareth Lee, whose legal action was backed by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

Lee had tried to buy a cake depicting the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie below the motto Support gay marriage for an event to mark International Day Against Homophobia in 2014.

The Ashers lawsuit has received international attention, and highlighted the tensions between lesbian rights reformers and the politically influential and socially conservative born-again Christian vestibule within Northern Ireland.

The three appeal magistrates on Monday were Northern Irelands lord chief justice, Sir Declan Morgan, and Lord Justices Weatherup and Weir.

In delivering their judgment, Morgan rejected the argument of lawyers for Daniel McArthur and his family that the bakery would have been endorsing gay matrimony equality by cooking the cake.

The fact that a baker offer a cake for a specific team or portrays witches on a Halloween cake does not indicate any support for either, the lord chief justice said.

Following the judgment, Daniel McArthur, flanked by his wife Amy, said: This ruling undermines democratic freedom, religious freedom and freedom of speech.

Supporters of the family firm, including former Democratic Unionist minister in the devolved government at Stormont Jim Wells, described the judgment as an awful decision. Wells said an appeal would be mounted against the ruling at the supreme court in London.

Morgan declared that the original judgment at Belfast recorders tribunal had been correct in determining that, as a matter of law, Ashers had discriminated against the respondent immediately on the grounds of sexual orientation contrary to the Equality Act( Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2006.

He said the legislation on equality in the region could not be changed to suit one particular religious or political group.

On Ashers posture regarding the cake, Morgan said: The supplier may provide the particular service to all or to none but not to a selection of clients based on prohibited grounds. In the current example the appellants might elect not to provide a service that involves any religion or political message. What they may not do is provide a service that only reflects their own political or religion message in relation to sexual orientation.

The lord chief justice criticised the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. He said the publicly funded body should also have offered the McArthur family advice during the case, as the bakers believed their rights as people of faith within the commercial realm were being undermined.

Lee was espoused and shook hands with supporters after the judges left the court, and made a brief statement outside court expressing his relief. The only thing that I would like to say is Im alleviated and very grateful to the court of appeal for the judgment, he said.

Speaking before going into the appeal court on Monday morning, Daniel McArthur had said: This has never been about the customer. It has been about a message promoting a cause that contradicts the Bible.

Lee placed his order at the bakery shortly after the end of the Democratic Unionist party employed its power of veto in the Northern Ireland assembly to block moves to stimulate lesbian matrimony legal in the province. The region is the only part of the UK where same-sex marriage is still not recognised in statute.

The DUP has a strong base in the provinces evangelical Christian community and was founded out of the late Dr Ian Paisleys Free Presbyterian church. The party has all along been blocked proposals in the assembly from other parties including their main partners in government, Sinn Fin, to legalise lesbian wedding.

During a four-day hearing at the court of appeal in Belfast earlier this year, lawyers for the McArthur family said they challenged the finding because in their eyes it would have been sinful for them to complete the order.

In their legal battle to overrule the ruling, the McArthur family won the support of Northern Irelands attorney general, John Larkin QC.

During the hearing in May, the attorney general argued in tribunal that the McArthur family was entitled to constitutional protection for turning down a clients order based on their personal religious beliefs.

Following Mondays ruling one of the main lesbian rights organisations in Northern Ireland greeted the judges decision.

John ODoherty, the director of the Rainbow Project, said: Ashers Baking Company entered into a contractual arrangement to make this cake and then changed their intellect. Sympathetic as some may be to the position in which the company procures itself, this does not change the facts of the case. The decision clearly articulated that this is direct discrimination for which there can be no justification.

ODoherty added: We once again extend the hand of friendship to all people of religion, churches and households. We would encourage faith leaders to engage with our community to ensure better the relationships and to develop trust and respect between our overlapping communities for the betterment of our society.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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