A complaint by a Northern Irish gay rights activist alleging that he was discriminated against when the Christian bakery owners refused to bake him an iced cake with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” was ruled inadmissible by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The ECHR said Gareth Lee had failed to “seek domestic remedies” in the longstanding “gay cake” case.
In 2018, the UK Supreme Court ruled that Mr Lee was not discriminated against when the Ashers Bakery in Belfast refused to make him the cake.
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.
But in a written judgment on Thursday, the ECHR said: “Convention arguments must be made expressly or in terms of substance before the domestic authorities.
“At no point in the domestic proceedings did the complainant invoke his rights under the Convention.
“By relying solely on domestic law, the applicant had denied the domestic courts the opportunity to deal with all the convention issues raised and instead asked the court to usurp the role of the domestic courts.
“Because he had not exhausted the domestic legal process, the application was inadmissible.”
The high profile controversy first flared up when Mr. Lee, a member of the LGBT advocacy group QueerSpace, ordered a £ 36.50 cake from Ashers in May 2014 with the Sesame Street dolls Bert and Ernie for a private celebration on International Day Against Homophobia .
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 the owners of Ashers, 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.
The Christian Institute welcomed the ECHR judgment and said it was the “correct result”.
Spokesman Simon Calvert said: “The UK Supreme Court has examined the human rights arguments extensively in this case and upheld the McArthurs’ rights to freedom of expression and religion.
“It was disappointing to see another attempt to undermine these rights, so it is a relief that the attempt has failed.
“I am surprised that anyone would want to overturn a judgment that protects gay business owners from having to hold views they do not share, just as it protects Christian business owners.
“The ruling from five of the country’s most respected and experienced judges in October 2018 was welcomed by lawyers, commentators and freedom of expression experts from across the spectrum.
“They all knew about the implications for freedom of expression and religion if the decision had been against Ashers.
“This is good news for free speech, good news for Christians, and good news for the McArthurs.”
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