European court declines to take pro-gay marriage cake case

LONDON – A senior European court on Thursday declined to rule a cake with ‘Sesame Street’ characters Bert and Ernie and the words ‘Support gay marriage’ on a high level discrimination case centered on an activist’s motion “To decorate.

The European Court of Human Rights said the case was inadmissible because activist Gareth Lee had “failed to exhaust internal remedies” in his trial against a Northern Irish bakery.

It was the latest verdict in a longstanding legal battle that began in 2014 when Ashers Baking Co. refused to bake the cake Lee wanted.

Ashers Bake in Belfast, Northern Ireland.Brian Lawless / PA via AP

The owners argued that they would like to bake for everyone but would not put messages on their products that contradicted their Christian beliefs.

Lee said he was frustrated that the case was dismissed because of what he called a “technical fact” and said that freedom of expression “must apply to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals alike.”

He originally ordered the cake to support a campaign to enable same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. The campaign was successful when the British Parliament stepped in to bring the region into line with the rest of the country. Two women who tied the knot in February 2020 was the first gay couple to get married in Northern Ireland.

The UK Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the bakery’s refusal to make the cake Lee ordered was non-discriminatory and overturned a lower court’s decision.

Lee then took his case to the Strasbourg, France-based human rights court, arguing that the UK Supreme Court’s decision violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a written judgment, the Human Rights Court said it could not rule because Lee had failed to address the convention in his trials in the UK.

“Because he failed to exhaust domestic remedies, the action was inadmissible,” said the Court of Human Rights.

The LGBTQ support group Rainbow Project called the verdict disappointing.

“When a commercial company provides services to the public, it must not discriminate against its customers or clients on grounds protected by equality law,” said John O’Doherty, the group’s director.

He said the UK Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling created legal uncertainty across the country.

“Unfortunately, with today’s decision, this uncertainty will persist,” he said.

The Christian Institute, which sponsored the McArthur family litigation, which runs Ashers Baking Co., welcomed the ruling, which a spokesman described as “good news for freedom of expression, good news for Christians, and good news for the McArthurs.”

“The UK Supreme Court has extensively examined the human rights arguments in this case and upheld the McArthurs’ rights to freedom of expression and religion,” said spokesman Simon Calvert.

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