“Gay cake” case may prompt top level legal rethink

The life story of Andrew Muir, the mayor of North Down is part of Northern Ireland’s long journey towards civilisation – including the fact that as an openly gay person he made it to mayor at all. It was his Bangor reception that sparked the Great Cake Discrimination Case. Even so, the case may not be open and shut as it seems.

The law is reckoned to be unsatisfactory. There is a legal debate which hinges on whether discrimination is “direct” or “indirect.” In other words, if Ashers bakery discriminated against gays only they may have no plea of justification. But if they have objections in other circumstances their case might be arguable – like a hotelier who objected to heterosexuals as well as gays sharing a double bed. But even this distinction causes  concern as a principal  basis for adjudication.  The fullest account of this case that I’ve read is in the Daily Mail, although it’s critical of   anti-discrimination.

 Ashers Baking Company – based in Northern Ireland and named after a verse in the Bible – has been warned by the Equality Commission that the law does not allow them to turn down an order to bake the cake.

The new clash between gay rights and Christian convictions began in May when an activist from the QueerSpace pressure group approached the Belfast bakery chain and ordered a cake decorated with the words ‘support gay marriage’.

The design also included the organisation’s name and two characters from Sesame Street.

The order from the activist, Gareth Lee, was accepted by shop staff.

However, the owners of the family-run company, Colin and Karen McArthur, and their son Daniel, who is manager, decided the message on the cake was contrary to their beliefs.

Mrs McArthur phoned Mr Lee to tell him the firm would not bake the cake, and to offer a refund.

The bakers have in the past refused to produce cakes showing sexual images or featuring bad language.

Mr Lee complained to the Equality Commission’s Northern Ireland branch, which warned the bakers that they now face a legal claim.

A letter from the Commission said: ‘We have advised Mr Lee that you have acted unlawfully and contrary to Regulation Five of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 which prohibits discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services to a person seeking or obtaining to use those goods, facilities or services on the grounds of sexual orientation.’

It said county court proceedings would start within seven days of the letter.

The bakery is now to be backed in court by the Christian Institute pressure group. The Institute lent support to Peter and Hazel Mary Bull, the Cornwall hoteliers who lost a legal battle after they refused a room to a gay couple on the grounds that they were not married.

The Supreme Court judge who made the final decision in the case, Lady Hale, has now said she believes the judgement against the Bulls was too harsh and that the law should allow Christians a ‘conscience clause.’

Mr Bull, 74, and his 70-year-old wife refused a double room at their Cornish hotel to Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall in 2008 because they were not a married heterosexual couple.

The incident led to a string of court cases, which culminated in defeat for the Bulls at the Supreme Court – where Lady Hale, leading four other judges, ruled that the rights of the gay couple outweighed the conscience of the Christian couple. Lady Hale declared in her Supreme Court ruling that we should be ‘slow to accept’ the right of Christians to discriminate against gay people.

 I may have been wrong to condemn Christian B&B owners for banning gay couple because people with religious beliefs have rights too, says top judge

But in March she acknowledged that the laws which ignore Christian consciences might not be ‘sustainable’. Last week, in a highly unusual move, Lady Hale and her fellow judges ordered that the Bulls will not be liable for legal costs – a decision which spares them a huge bill which would pay for the lawyers who represented Mr Preddy and Mr Hall.

The Newsletter doesn’t seem to understand hat being gay is not in the same category as the BNP or jihadists. Note this Denver case – different country, different laws but similar Christian views.

Should there be “a conscience clause” or should gays still be required  to pick their way through life as an  obstacle course of other’s people’s views?

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  • the rich get richer

    I’d eat cake right now if I had a cake.

  • Jag

    It would be interesting to see what would happen if Queerspace placed an order with Ashers for a cake with just the Bert and Ernie character and the Queerspace logo. Presumably Ashers wouldn’t have an issue with that, even though, adding “Support Gay Marriage” would take a minute at another bakers.

    Also, it would be interesting if Queerspace were to take advantage of the terrific offer presently available from the News Letter, where, for GBP 850 plus VAT, they will print 20,000 A5 leaftlets, and include them as inserts in their newspaper. According to their own ad on page 23 of last Thursday’s edition, the price includes “design, print (A5 double sided flyers, full colour on 130 GSM gloss) and distribution into the News Letter” Would the News Letter design a Bert and Ernie flyer, with the Queerspace logo and the words “Support Gay Marriage” and distribute it to to readers.

    Go on Queerspace, I dare you!

  • Reader

    I support gay marriage (aka equal marriage), but I don’t think the equality commission have any chance of success in court. Nor do I think they deserve to have any success.
    The bakery’s obvious defence will be that they are not obliged to support a political campaign, and the slogan to be put on the cake was certainly part of a political campaign.
    The act which “prohibits discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and
    services to a person seeking or obtaining to use those goods, facilities
    or services on the grounds of sexual orientation” is irrelevant. That isn’t what happened.
    Much of the grandstanding surrounding this case is entirely nonsensical.

  • AMS2013

    I think that ad in the newsletter is for the “graduated respone” for Unionist..Isn’t 20,000 the number the “fleggers” Printed for East Belfast before the election, just before some “PSNI/IRA” got petrol bombed.
    I think they use sugar in molotov Cocktails so that must have been thee “granulated response”

  • Zig70

    So much agitation for marriage, it’s overrated, they don’t know when they are well off. The most common unchristian thing I see is the demonisation of others. An ugly egotistical trait. That saying it goes both ways and I support people standing up for their beliefs as long as they are willing to refactor in the face of a better argument. The courts is an expensive process, not the place for this. There are better cakes to be had in my opinion. It’s not as if there isn’t a choice and I suspect this battle was sought out.

  • Roy Walsh


  • Guest

    I think that’s why a suitable conscience clause should be factored in so that on legal principle the bakery may be found to have discriminated *in principle* but in practice is allowed to carry on what it is doing unharmed with compensation set so so low, on the basis of this conscience clause, that it does not affect its business. This way the law can be used to show that the State is against this and does not support this, but also the State is not about punishing Christian companies either in these circumstances. For instance, I could now go into ashers and ask for a similar cake and likely be refused and go for compensation and chance my arm. I have to say I find the whole issue of cake baking and political messaging on said cake to be largely cosmetic relative to what discrimination law can and should be used for, it should be used for much more significant things that really matter. I say this in the context of there certainly being other bakeries out there that would bake a cake and put a message on, so society doesn’t need changing to facilitate ‘rights’ of this kind as there are loads of providers / bakeries on side with gay rights. Ashers is the exception. With this in mind, this case should merit little to no compensation but a point may be proved if the claimant so wishes to prove it.

  • Michael Henry

    Be some kick up if a bakery had of refused to bake a Orange cake with the words ‘ Onwards Christian Soldiers ‘ on it for two members of the brethren -kick the Pope would not get a look in-there would be Convictions all right-

  • babyface finlayson

    It’s a good job that never happened then, isn’t it?

  • Thomas Girvan

    What has that got to do with cakes, other that to avail of an opportunity to perpetuate the long since past it’s sell by date, wind up of dyslexic spelling of flags, just to irritate the Prods?

  • David Thomson

    Calls for conscience clause are just noise in the air. Anti-discrimination laws exist to protect people, not beliefs.

    Landmark rulings have established ‘legislation for the protection of views held purely on religious ground cannot be justified’.

    Also, ‘religion was a matter of opinion that couldn’t be proved and therefore should not be used as the basis for making law’.

  • npbinni

    …’should gays still be required to pick their way through life as an obstacle course of other’s people’s views?’

    Maybe the question should be: should one or two percent of the world’s population be allowed to destroy traditional marriage?

    Should homosexuals be allowed to force their views on the human race which has got along just fine with traditional marriage, whether it be Christian, Hindu, Islamic, or pagan societies for that matter, from the beginning of the human race?

  • Zeno

    Sunday Times reported yesterday that this is all the rage with Gay Activists in the USA. Find a Christian Baker, Order Cake and when they refuse to bake it, send in the Lawyers.

  • IRF

    Surely it’s the gay cake that was discriminated against, not the gay customers?
    There’s nothing in the story to suggest that the bakery were not prepared to make a cake of any kind for the gay customers, just not a gay cake.
    If I had asked the bakery to make me a gay cake, and they had refused to do so, would the Equality Commission have ruled that I was being discriminated against on the grounds of my sexual orientation, when I’m not even gay? That would be nonsensical, surely?

  • barnshee

    Hopefully a precedent has been set

    “Last week, in a highly unusual move, Lady Hale and her fellow judges ordered that the Bulls will not be liable for legal costs – a decision which spares them a huge bill which would pay for the lawyers who represented Mr Preddy and Mr Hall.”

    Having to pay their on costs will tighten the dung is all those seeking a soft few grand

  • Aaron Aababab

    Refusing to make a cake endorsing gay marriage is homophobia. End of

  • Big Yellow Crane

    Whatever the right or wrongs of this case it’s worth it for the headline of the Spectator this week reads; “GAY CAKE NAZI SLUR!!”. The farmer that caught Rhianna running around undressed on his farm has written to the council denouncing the popular ex-mayor of North Down (Andrew Muir) as a member of the (PC) Gestapo. Makes a change from Seafront redevelopment stories :-).

  • Eamonn