Mary-Antoinette may be famous for having stated “Let them eat cake” in the French Revolution, but the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland rejected the appeal of two Christian bakers who had refused to make a cake with a logo of ‘Bert & Ernie’ bearing the message “Support Gay Marriage”.
The case of Lee v Ashers Baking Company was not an employment law case, however it dealt with some important questions concerning circumstances where there is an apparent conflict between two protected characteristics.
In this case, sexual orientation and religious belief which is a situation which a company or employer could easily find itself in.
Whist there is currently no provision for same sex marriages in Northern Ireland, anti discrimination legislation does apply.
In this case, Mr Lee placed an order for a cake with Ashers baking company bearing what they considered to be a gay slogan.
Mr & Mrs McArthur, the directors of the bakery cancelled the order and refunded Mr Lee’s money on the basis that they opposed ‘same-sex marriage’ as they believed it was contrary to Christian beliefs.
The N.I Court of Appeal concluded that the bakery had directly discriminated against Mr Lee by association on the ground of sexual orientation.
This case also considered carefully the competing rights of Mr & Mrs McArthur under Article 9 (Freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and Article 10 (Freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Court however concluded that to prohibit the provision of a message on a cake supportive of gay marriage would be to endorse and permit direct discrimination.
This case further demonstrates the far reaching implications of the ever evolving law of discrimination which can impact not only within the workplace, but within society generally.
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