The case involving a Northern Irish bakery that refused to make a cake with a message supporting gay marriage will be heard in the European Court of Human Rights.
The owners of the Ashers bakery in Belfast claimed that making the cake with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” for gay rights activist Gareth Lee in 2014 was “at odds” with their Christian faith.
Sexual orientation discrimination
Lee sued the company for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and belief. He won his case and was successful in subsequent appeal made by the bakery, but the Supreme Court ruled in the bakery’s favour in 2018.
He will now argue that the Supreme Court “failed to give appropriate weight” to him under the European Convention of Human Rights.
In a statement, Lee’s lawyer Ciaran Moynagh said the latest case “does not directly implicate the owners of Ashers bakery or challenge their right to privately hold religious/political views”.
“Instead the case will be against the United Kingdom, a member state of the European Court,” he said.
“We’re concerned the ruling in this case allows any company, its shareholders or owners to hold religious or political views and those views trump the rights of its customers. The Supreme Court ruling blurred the line, created legal uncertainty for all of us in Northern Ireland and the ECHR is the appropriate place to clarify this issue.”
Lee said the case is about limited companies “being somehow able to pick and choose which customers they serve”.
“I’d fight for the rights of business owners to be able to hold their own religious beliefs. I have my own beliefs. But that’s not what my case has ever been about.”
Yvonne Gallagher, partner at Harbottle and Lewis said: “This case and the comments made by Mr Lee’s lawyer highlight the fundamental problem at the heart of Equality legislation which includes religion and belief as a protected characteristic.
“Given that the teaching of many of the major world religions is at odds with parts of the equality agenda, there will inevitably be conflict of the kind referred to by Mr Lee and his lawyers.
“In seeking to narrow the focus to the nature of the conduct complained of the Supreme Court appears to have found a workable way through this but it clearly won’t please everyone.”
The owners of the Ashers bakery have maintained that their objection was to the message on the cake itself, not the customer.