A bakery in Northern Ireland found guilty of unlawful discrimination for refusing to ice a cake with the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’ will have its appeal heard in the Supreme Court later on Tuesday.
The owners of Ashers Bakery are hoping to overturn earlier rulings that they breached equality laws by refusing to make the cake for Gareth Lee, a member of QueerSpace, an LGBT advocacy group in Northern Ireland.
The Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court, will hear the case over two days in Belfast in its first ever hearing in Northern Ireland.
A judgement on whether the McArthur family, who own Ashers bakery, are guilty of unlawful discrimination is expected to be handed down later in the year.
The case has attracted huge public interest in Northern Ireland, where gay marriage is not legal.
In May 2015, Mr Lee placed an order for the cake with a slogan in support of the campaign to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. The bakery initially accepted the order though later cancelled it and refunded Mr Lee.
Backed by the Northern Ireland Equality Commission, Mr Lee sued Ashers for discrimination under the Equality Act.
Mrs McArthur has said she cancelled the order because of her concerns about the slogan, which she said goes against the family’s Christian beliefs, not because of Mr Lee’s sexual orientation.
Mr Lee won the case, with a judge ruling that there was unlawful direct discrimination by the bakery.
Ashers bakery took the case to Northern Ireland Court of Appeal, where, in an unusual move, the Attorney General for Northern Ireland intervened, saying the ruling against the couple fell foul of Northern Ireland’s constitutional law.
Mr John Larkin QC said after the appeal was adjourned due to his intervention: “I say very clearly, if it was a case where Mr Lee had been refused some of Ashers’ excellent chocolate eclairs because he was gay or perceived to be gay I would be standing on the other side of the court”.
“But it’s not about that, it’s about expression and whether it’s lawful under Northern Ireland constitutional law for Ashers to be forced… to articulate or express or say a political message which is at variance with their political views and in particular their religious views.”
Despite Mr Larkin’s intervention, Sir Declan Morgan, Northern Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice, ruled against the bakery.
He said following the ruling: “To prohibit the provision of a message on a cake supportive of gay marriage on the basis of religious belief is to permit direct discrimination.
PICTURE: General Manager of Ashers, Daniel McArthur (left) and his wife Amy, alongside Sam Webster, The Christian Institute's solicitor advocate, arrive at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast where the Supreme Court is examining issues linked to the Ashers Baking Company "gay cake" case. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
“The fact that a baker provides a cake for a particular team or portrays witches on a Halloween cake does not indicate any support for either.”