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The Saga of the "Gay Cake"

There has been much reported about this matter which has finally reached a conclusion within the Supreme Court.

The case surrounds Ashers Baking who are a family-owned business with owners who are religious Christians.

A customer and member of LGBT advocacy group, Queer Space, Mr Gareth Lee, asked these bakers to bake a cake with a photo of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street and the wording 'Support Gay Marriage'. The bakers refused to bake it due to their religious beliefs.

So the question for the Supreme Court was essentially whether or not it was directly discriminatory for a Christian baker to refuse to bake a cake containing a message supportive of gay marriage? The Supreme Court held that is was not.

Mr Lee initially brought a discrimination claim through the Northern Irish courts and succeeded and did so again before the Northern Irish Court of Appeal. However the Supreme Court overruled those decisions.

It looked at direct discrimination on grounds of both sexual orientation and political belief.

It held that the bakers' refusal was not because of Mr Lee's sexual orientation: that was irrelevant to their decision so it was thus not direct discrimination in the ordinary sense. The Supreme Court also held that this was not associative direct discrimination, i.e. because Mr Lee was likely to associate with the gay community. For associative discrimination to succeed there needed to be an association with particular persons and discrimination due to that association. That was absent in this case. That the message had something to do with sexual orientation of some people was not sufficient to make out the claim.

In relation to the political belief arguments, the Court relied heavily on the rights relating to religion and expression under Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Those rights include an entitlement not to be forced to express a political opinion in which you do not believe. Infringement of those rights could not be justified by an obligation to supply a cake iced with a message with which the bakers profoundly disagreed.

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