The Christian owners of a Northern Ireland bakery have won their appeal in the so-called “gay cake” discrimination case.
The UK’s highest court ruled that Ashers bakery’s refusal to make a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage was not discriminatory.
The five justices on the Supreme Court were unanimous in their judgement.
The high-profile dispute began in 2014 when the bakery refused to make a cake with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage”.
The customer sued Ashers Baking Company for discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and political beliefs.
The legal battle, which has lasted almost four-and-a-half years, has raised questions over equality and freedom of conscience.
What is the row about?
The customer, gay rights activist Gareth Lee, requested a cake featuring the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie, iced with the message: “Support Gay Marriage”.
His order was initially accepted at a branch of Ashers in Belfast city centre, but two days later the baking firm’s head office contacted Mr Lee to say they would not make the cake.
Why did the bakers refuse?
The family-run baking company, based in County Antrim, has described the same-sex marriage slogan as “inconsistent” with their religious beliefs.
But they point out that their issue was with the slogan and not Mr Lee, claiming they would have refused the same order from a heterosexual client.
As he arrived outside the Supreme Court for the start of the case in May, Ashers’ general manager Daniel McArthur said: “We didn’t say no because of the customer; we’d served him before, we’d serve him again.
“It was because of the message. But some people want the law to make us support something with which we disagree.”
What has the court said and why?
The president of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale ruled that the bakers did not refuse to fulfil his order because of his sexual orientation.
“They would have refused to make such a cake for any customer, irrespective of their sexual orientation,” she said.
“Their objection was to the message on the cake, not to the personal characteristics of Mr Lee.”
She added: “Accordingly, this court holds that there was no discrimination on the ground of the sexual orientation of Mr Lee.”
What does this mean for the law?
When Mr Lee first took action against the firm, he said the bakery’s actions left him feeling like a lesser person.
He has been supported throughout the legal action by the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that there was no political discrimination as well as no discrimination based on Mr Lee’s sexual orientation.
“This conclusion is not in any way to diminish the need to protect gay people and people who support gay marriage from discrimination,” said Lady Hale.
“It is deeply humiliating, and an affront to human dignity, to deny someone a service because of that person’s race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief.
“But that is not what happened in this case.”
Five Supreme Courts justices travelled to Belfast earlier this year to hear the case.
Source BBC News