Court rules Christian-owned bakery that refused to ice cake with pro-gay marriage slogan discriminated on grounds of sexual orientation
(SOURCE) A Christian-owned bakery that refused to make a cake carrying a pro-gay marriage slogan has been found guilty of discrimination after a landmark legal action.
The Northern Ireland Equality Commission brought the case against Ashers Baking Company on behalf of Gareth Lee, the gay rights activist whose order was declined.
Giving her ruling at Belfast County Court on Tuesday, district judge Isobel Brownlie said: “The defendants have unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff on grounds of sexual discrimination.
“This is direct discrimination for which there can be no justification.”
Ashers Bakery, run by the McArthur family, was accused of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation after declining to produce a cake with an image of Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie below the motto Support Gay Marriage.
It had been ordered by Mr Lee for a private function marking International Day Against Homophobia last May.
Judge Brownlie said she was satisfied the McArthur family had “genuine and deeply held religious beliefs” but said they must have been aware that Mr Lee was gay and were aware of the ongoing same sex marriage debate.
The judge added: “They must have known or had the perception that the plaintiff was gay. They must have known that the plaintiff supported gay marriage or associated with others who supported gay marriage.”
The Northern Ireland Equality Commission – which monitors compliance with the region’s anti-discrimination laws – brought the case on behalf of Mr Lee, a volunteer member of the LGBT advocacy group Queer Space.
The McArthur family, who employ 80 staff across nine branches and deliver across the UK and Ireland, have been supported by the Christian Institute, which has paid their legal fees.
The courtroom in Belfast’s Laganside complex was packed as the reserved judgement was delivered.
Ashers general manager Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy sat in the body of the court supported by other family members. The couple smiled as the lengthy ruling was read out in full. Mr Lee sat on the other side of the dock.
Among the Christian supporters was former Stormont health minister Edwin Poots and DUP Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan, who is seeking to introduce a “conscience clause” into equality legislation.
Giving evidence, Mr Lee claimed he was left feeling like a lesser person when his order, which was paid in full, was turned down two days after being initially accepted.
Karen McArthur, a founder and company director at Ashers, told the court she had accepted the request to avoid embarrassment or confrontation but, as a born-again Christian, knew she could not fulfil it.
The high-profile case has divided public opinion in Belfast and beyond.
Same-sex marriage remains a contentious issue in Northern Ireland and attempts to have it legalised have been rejected four times by the devolved Assembly at Stormont.
The cake row has prompted a proposal to include a so-called “conscience clause” in equality legislation – a move Sinn Fein has vowed to veto.