Christian bakers who refused to make ‘gay cake’ lose their appeal against discrimination finding

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By Katie King on

But has the Court of Appeal made the right decision?


Today, the Court of Appeal handed down its long-awaited judgment in the so-called gay cake case.

The immensely important and well-publicised human rights case is about Gareth Lee, a gay rights activist. He ordered a cake bearing the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” from a bakery in Northern Ireland called Ashers.

Though the bakery, run by a Mr and Mrs McArthur, initially accepted the order, the pair then decided making the cake would run counter to their Christian beliefs.

Ashers — a name that derives from the book of Genesis — apologised and refunded Lee the £36 he’d paid to place the order, yet the incident drummed up intense media scrutiny when Lee made a claim against the bakery for discrimination.

At first instance, District Judge Brownlie ruled Lee had been directly discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation and political belief.

Today, the Court of Appeal agreed with her.

Three judges reportedly told the court the appellants would not have refused to make a cake that said “Support Heterosexual Marriage”, and on this continued:

We accept that it was the use of the word ‘gay’ in the context of the message which prevented the order from being fulfilled.

The court ruled the bakery’s actions amounted to direct discrimination and — in a society that is becoming ever more tolerant to non-heterosexual views and rights — you might assume the public would overwhelmingly agree with this. Indeed, Joshua Rozenberg QC said at the time of the Brownlie judgment:

The directors of Ashers bakery remain free to hold their religious and political beliefs. We all do. But people who provide public services cannot pick and choose their customers on grounds of their sexual orientation, their political opinion or, indeed, their religious beliefs. And that is how it should be.

That said, some are very doubtful about the ruling and the precedent it sets.

Speaking to Legal Cheek in the wake of today’s Court of Appeal judgment, human rights specialist Shoaib Khan voiced his concerns:

This was an important opportunity for the court to demonstrate its support for the right to freedom of religion, but it seems to have ended up further alienating religious groups. It is time that human rights groups and the legal system started treating the right to freedom of religion with the same respect afforded to other fundamental rights.

Many others have questioned the courts’ approach to the gay cake saga. Notably, gay rights activist Peter Tatchell penned a strongly worded article in The Guardian earlier this year in which he said:

[Judge Brownlie] concluded that service providers are required to facilitate any ‘lawful’ message, even if they have a conscientious objection. This raises the question: should Muslim printers be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed? Or Jewish ones publish the words of a Holocaust denier? Or gay bakers accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? If the Ashers verdict stands it… would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes or print posters with bigoted messages.

At the time, a number of lawyers came out in support of Tatchell’s article, including Khan and criminal barrister Matthew Scott.

Even actor Patrick Stewart publicly backed the bakers, saying “I would support their rights to say no”.

Are you more of a Joshua Rozenberg or a Patrick Stewart? You can share your views on the gay cake case by casting your vote in our poll below.