By Robert Jonathan
Perhaps lost in all the breaking national and international news is a recent victory for religious freedom across the Atlantic
Earlier this month, the U.K.’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Northern Ireland bakery that refused to prepare and decorate a cake with pro-gay marriage messaging.
The controversy got its start back in May 2014 when LGBT activist Gareth Lee ordered a cake from Ashers Bakery’s Belfast store with a “support gay marriage” slogan along with a picture of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street and the logo of an activist group. The cake was ordered to coincide with the International Day Against Homophobia.
The family owned bakery declined to make the cake, however, because it was inconsistent with its religious beliefs. The customer subsequently lodged a discrimination complaint with the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which spent the equivalent of $320,000 U.S. dollars pursuing the case against the bakery, which lost in two lower courts. Underwritten by the Christian Institute, Ashers’ legal fees amounted to about $255,000.
Another local baker apparently supplied the cake for the event.
In overturning the prior court decisions, a unanimous, London-based U.K. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the bakery on grounds that the customer himself was not targeted for discrimination.
In the court’s judgement…president of the Supreme Court Lady Hale ruled that the bakers did not refuse to fulfil the order because of his sexual orientation.
“They would have refused to make such a cake for any customer, irrespective of their sexual orientation,” she said.
“Their objection was to the message on the cake, not to the personal characteristics of Mr. Lee.”
She added: “Accordingly, this court holds that there was no discrimination on the ground of the sexual orientation of Mr. Lee.”
Given all the legal costs involved, the BCC called it the most expensive cake order, totaling just around $47, in U.K. history.
Outside the courthouse, Ashers’ General Manager Daniel McArthur reaffirmed that the store had objected to the gay-themed message only.
We’re particularly pleased that the Supreme Court emphatically accepted what we’ve said all along. We did not turn down this order because of the person who made it, but because of the message itself. The judges [gave] a clear signal today, and in fact, it couldn’t be clearer, that family businesses like ours are free to focus on giving all their customers the best service they can without being forced to promote other people’s campaigns…the ruling protects freedom of speech and freedom of conscience for everyone.
McArthur added that Lee will always be welcome in any of Ashers’ nine outlets.
Unlike the rest of the U.K., same-sex marriage is currently illegal in Northern Ireland.
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