The Case of the ‘Gay Cake’ – Lee v Asher’s Baking Company
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Remember this case? Well, the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal has now spoken.
Here’s a reminder of the facts:
Mr Lee had asked the bakery to decorate a cake with the words ‘Support Gay Marriage’, along with a picture of the Sesame Street Characters, Bert and Ernie. The bakery refused; the message on the cake was at odds with the owners’ Christian beliefs. They accepted that they cancelled the order because of their religious beliefs. They were opposed to a change in the law regarding same-sex marriage, believing it to be sinful.
Did these religious beliefs trump the rights of Mr Lee, a gay customer? The County Court had said no. The bakery had discriminated by failing to provide goods and services to a person on the grounds of their sexual orientation.
The Court of Appeal agreed with that conclusion. This was a case of associative discrimination; Mr Lee was directly discriminated against because he was associated with the protected characteristic (sexual orientation). If the bakery had elected to not provide a service that involved any religious or political message then that might have been ok. What was not ok was to refuse to provide a service that only reflected the owners’ political or religious belief in relation to sexual orientation. Service providers are not allowed to distinguish, on prohibited grounds, between those who may and may not receive the service.
The Court said, “If businesses were free to choose what services to provide to the gay community on the basis of religious belief the potential for arbitrary abuse would be substantial.”