Belfast Bakery Wins at UK Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled unanimously in October that Ashers Baking Company did not violate discrimination laws when it refused to make a cake with a slogan that supported same-sex marriage.

In 2014, gay rights activist Gareth Lee asked the bakery to make a cake that included the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie along with the phrase Support Gay Marriage. When the bakery declined, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland fined the bakery and later sued. In 2015, a judge ruled against Ashers, and an appeals court upheld that ruling. 

Daniel McArthur, general manager of the bakery, pointed out that Ashers had served Lee before and would do so again; it was not the customer but rather the message that the bakery objected to. In a 5-0 decision, the Supreme Court agreed. 

In its ruling, the court stated: “It is deeply humiliating, and an affront to human dignity, to deny someone a service because of that person’s race, gender, disability, sexual orientation or any of the other protected personal characteristics. But that is not what happened in this case.”

The ruling added, “The bakery would have refused to supply this particular cake to anyone, whatever their personal characteristics. So there was no discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.”

The court noted that while its judgment was being prepared, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of baker Jack Phillips in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Despite differences between the facts of the two cases, the U.K. court agreed “there is a clear distinction between refusing to produce a cake conveying a particular message … and refusing to produce a cake for the particular customer who wants it because of that customer’s characteristics.”