In a case important for illustrating the legal consequences of how the personal belief of business proprietors can result in accusations of discrimination against customers, a court has heard how the proprietors of a Northern-Irish bakery have appealed a 2015 court ruling that they discriminated against a customer’s sexuality.
Gay rights activist, Gareth Lee, claims he was refused the right to purchase a custom-made cake featuring the words ‘Support Gay Marriage’ with an accompanying image of Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie due to the Christian sentiment of the shop owners. The cake was intended for enjoyment at a private function in celebration of International Day Against Homophobia.
Mr Lee, a member of the gay charity Queer Space, took offence to the refusal at Ashers Bakery and subsequently took the business to court on grounds that they violated his human rights via direct discriminating against his sexual orientation.
He won his case in 2015 and received £500 in damages from the MacArthur family who run Ashers Bakery. However, the ruling was not without controversy as many legal observers felt the MacArthur family have the right of religious freedom and were thus were merely affirming the Christian teachings of homosexuality they follow, despite the bakery not having a clear Christian appearance or tone.
Ashers are appealing the ruling on grounds that their reaction to the request does not constitute discrimination as they insist the refusal was not made directly as a result of Mr Lee’s sexuality. They assert that he had been a customer on several previous occasions without any hint of prejudice projected towards him by the bakery, although there is some uncertainty as to whether the bakery was aware of Mr Lee’s sexuality prior to his order of the cake.
Ashers also insist the refusal related to the actual content of the cake’s message rather than a reaction against Mr Lee’s sexuality, and as such there is no legal reason that it is their duty to supply him with a product bearing such a message.
The MacArthur family further rejects the earlier ruling with claims that their actions do not count as discrimination against Mr Lee because a heterosexual man seeking a cake with a gay slogan would also have been refused the such a purchase, but due to the law only covering harm experienced by an individual, the possibility of the MacArthurs not providing a cake of this kind to all people was not considered by the court.
The court ruling will made at an as of yet unscheduled date.