Ashers Bakery loses court battle

Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arriving at an earlier court appearance. Pic by  Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arriving at an earlier court appearance. Pic by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Christian bakers found to have discriminated against a gay man by refusing to make a cake bearing a pro-gay marriage slogan have lost their appeal against the ruling.

The owners of Belfast-based Ashers declined an order placed by gay activist Gareth Lee, claiming the message was inconsistent with their deeply held religious beliefs.

Last year, they were found to have breached equality legislation following a high-profile court case in Belfast. The high-profile case was heard before three senior judges at Belfast’s Court of Appeal in May where it was claimed the outcome would have implications for freedom of expression across the UK.

During four days of technical legal argument, barrister David Scoffield QC, acting for Ashers, said the bakers could not have provided the cake because the message was inconsistent with their deeply held religious beliefs. He said there was clear evidence Ashers believed it would have been “sinful” to have done so.

Meanwhile, a lawyer representing the Northern Ireland Equality Commission, which brought the civil suit on behalf of gay rights activist Gareth Lee, submitted that the firm had not been forced to do anything against its beliefs. Robin Allen QC told the court many businesses printed messages they did not associate with, and cited examples of posters made for election candidates.

The appeal was lodged after a judge at Belfast’s County Court found Ashers had breached equality legislation by refusing to provide the cake bearing the slogan “Support Gay Marriage”.

Mr Lee, a member of the LGBT advocacy group Queer Space, had wanted a cake featuring Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie with the phrase Support Gay Marriage for a private function marking International Day Against Homophobia.

He paid the £36.50 in full at Ashers’ Belfast city centre branch but was telephoned two days later and told the company could not fulfil his order.