A Northern Ireland appeals court ruled Oct. 24 against a Christian-run bakery convicted of discrimination for refusing to bake a cake supporting gay marriage.
The ruling by a three-judge panel upholds a 2015 decision by a lower court finding Ashers Baking Company guilty of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. In 2014, the bakery declined a customer’s request for a cake picturing Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie and the slogan “Support Gay Marriage.” The customer, backed by Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission, sued the bakery, a Belfast-based business with nine storefronts owned and run by the McArthur family. A county judge ruled against Ashers and fined the family £500 ($615). The McArthurs appealed, and were again defeated this week.
While the business considers whether it will appeal again, this time to the U.K. Supreme Court, support is coming from unexpected quarters. In the wake of the decision, two major U.K. newspapers published editorials condemning the ruling and backing the bakery, both penned by openly gay men.
“Discrimination against people should be illegal but not discrimination against ideas and opinions,” wrote LGBT rights activist Peter Tatchell in The Independent. “This judgment opens a can of worms. It means that a Muslim printer could be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed and a Jewish printer could be required to publish a book that propagates Holocaust denial. … What the court has decided sets a dangerous, authoritarian precedent that is open to serious abuse.”
Commentator Neil Midgley, writing in The Telegraph, said he didn’t want any business to discriminate against gay people.
“I wish the McArthurs would abandon their silly religious views and bake cakes for everyone,” he wrote. “But freedom of religion must surely be respected alongside freedom of sexuality and, as a gay man, I vehemently support the Christian bakers’ right not to bake pro-gay cakes.”
The court disagreed.
Although the judges accepted the fact that Ashers previously served the customer, gay rights activist Gareth Lee, and that its employees did not know he was gay when they refused his order, the judges said Lee still received less favorable treatment based on his sexual orientation.
The McArthurs say that is simply not true.
“We have always said it: It was never about the customer, it was about the message,” Daniel McArthur, managing director of the bakery, said outside the courthouse on Monday. “But now we’re being told that we have to promote the message, even if it’s against our conscience.” He also noted the message stands opposed to current law in Northern Ireland, where gay marriage is still illegal.
But the court refused that argument.
“The fact that a baker provides a cake for a particular team or portrays witches on a Halloween cake does not indicate any support for either,” Northern Ireland’s lord chief justice, Sir Declan Morgan, said in court, reading from the opinion.
McArthur said the ruling undermines democratic freedom, religious freedom and free speech.
“If equality law means people can be punished for politely refusing to support other people’s causes then equality law needs to change,” he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley Crossland writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine. Used with permission.)