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UK Supreme Court hears challenge over whether bakers can discriminate against gay people

Ashers Bakery refused to make a pro-marriage equality cake featuring Bert and Ernie

Photo: Ralph Daily, via Wikimedia

The United Kingdom Supreme Court is hearing a challenge this week regarding a dispute over a “gay cake” case in Northern Ireland.

Ashers bakery in Belfast is fighting an initial ruling that they discriminated against an LGBTQ activist by refusing to sell a cake with a pro-gay message on it.

In 2014, Gareth Lee visited Ashers Bakery to order a cake that would have an image printed on with edible ink. Although he was told he could have any image printed on the cake, when he sent an image of Sesame Street‘s Bert and Ernie with the words “support gay marriage,” he was told that Ashers would not make the cake due to the message it conveyed.

With help of The Equality Commission, Lee took the owners of the bakery, Daniel and Amy McArthur, to court for discrimination.

In May 2015, a judge ruled that the bakery had “unlawfully discriminated” against Lee. The McArthurs attempted to launch an appeal in 2016, but lost. Now, almost four years after the initial incident, the Supreme Court is hearing their case.

The bakery’s representation, David Scoffield, said in the Supreme Court that the case was an example of forced speech.

“Mr. and Mrs. McArthur have been penalized by the state, in the form of the judgment at the county court, for failing through their family company to create and provide a product bearing an explicit slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’ to which they have a genuine objection in conscience,” Scoffield said.

Lee’s representation, Robin Allen, said that his client did not ask for the bakery to do anything ludicrous and would have no way of knowing any religious objections existed. 

“What Mr Lee asked them to do was not egregious, not outside their ordinary course of business, it was not a trial and it was not an abuse,” Allen said. “It is not the case that Mr Lee was doing anything wrong or unusual or strange in bringing in that logo and asking for it to be iced. He would not have known that it was outside the ordinary course of business for Ashers.”

The court’s panel of five justices are expected to deliver their judgment in early 2019.

Parallels can be drawn between this case and a similar case that was heard by the United States Supreme Court in December, where a baker refused to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, is yet to be ruled upon.

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