European Court to rule on 'gay cake' saga

A judgment is to be made later in the long-standing so-called “gay cake” case at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.

In 2018 the UK Supreme Court ruled that Northern Irish gay rights activist Gareth Lee was not discriminated against when Christian owners of a Belfast bakery refused to make him a cake with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” on it.

Mr Lee then referred the case to the ECHR, claiming that the Supreme Court had not given it adequate weight under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Lee alleges that the UK Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss his action for breach of a statutory service obligation affected his rights and that the interference was not proportionate.

The high profile controversy first flared up when Mr Lee, a member of LGBT advocacy group QueerSpace, presented a £ 36.50 cake with Sesame Street dolls Bert and Ernie for a private celebration of International Homophobia Day at the bakery in May 2014 Ashers ordered in Belfast.

His order was accepted and he paid the full amount, but two days later the Christian owners of the company called to say that based on the requested message, it could not continue.

Mr Lee then, assisted by the Northern Ireland Equal Opportunities Commission, initiated the litigation alleging sexual discrimination and won hearings in the County Court and Northern Ireland Court of Appeal in 2015 and 2016.

But Ashers owners Daniel and Amy McArthur, backed by the Christian Institute, challenged those rulings in the Supreme Court, and in 2018 five judges unanimously ruled that they had not discriminated against the customer.

Then-President of the Tribunal, Lady Hale, said the McArthur family represented the religious belief that “the only form of marriage that is Scriptural and acceptable to God is between a man and a woman”.

She said: “Regarding Mr. Lee’s sexual discrimination claim, the bakers did not refuse to fulfill his order because of his sexual orientation.

“They would have refused to bake such a cake for every customer, regardless of their sexual orientation.

“Your objection was against the message on the cake, not the personal traits of Mr. Lee or anyone else he was associated with.”

Mr. Lee said at the time that refusing to bake the cake made him feel like a “second class citizen.”

The McArthurs said they declined this order not because of the person who made it, but because of the requested message on the cake.

The ECHR will deliver a written judgment today.

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