The European Court of Human Rights has upheld a 2018 ruling by the United Kingdom Supreme Court in favor of a Christian bakery in Northern Ireland that refused to bake and decorate a cake with a slogan affirming gay marriage.
The court’s ruling was issued by a seven-judge panel from the Council of Europe, which includes a judge from each of the 47-member states. The European court, located in Strasbourg, France, was established in 1959.
Legal action against Ashers Baking Company in Belfast, Ireland, ensued in 2014 after the business declined Gareth Lee’s request to include the words “Support Gay Marriage” on a cake he ordered. At that time, same-sex marriage was illegal in Northern Ireland but the law was changed in February 2020 to allow same-sex weddings.
Both local and appellate courts in the U.K. ruled that the bakery owner’s Biblically-held beliefs that marriage is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman did not justify their refusal of Lee’s request to create a cake that endorsed same-sex marriage.
In 2018, the U.K. Supreme Court reversed the lower court rulings in favor of Lee. The high court ruled instead that the bakery did not discriminate against Lee because he was gay, but simply refused to violate their own religious convictions about the institution of marriage.
In their ruling on Jan. 6, judges said Lee’s case was inadmissible before the European court because he had failed to invoke his rights under the European Convention of Human Rights during the U.K. court proceedings.
Lee decried the ruling on a “technicality” as a huge disappointment.
But Evangelical Alliance, a Christian organization that supported Ashers Bakery’s defense against Lee’s discrimination claims, celebrated the ruling as a victory against compelled speech.
“This case was about freedom of conscience, speech and belief, and whether someone could be forced to create a message they profoundly disagreed with,” said Peter Lynas, director of Evangelical Alliance.
Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire URN:26253402 (Press Association via AP Images)