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Gay cake battle: Ashers give thanks, Lee says little, and judge goes away to think

By Deborah McAleese

Published 31/03/2015

Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arrive at court for the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arrive at court for the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Gay rights activist Gareth Lee outside Laganside Court. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Gay rights activist Gareth Lee outside Laganside Court. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Gay rights activist Gareth Lee outside Laganside Court. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Gay rights activist Gareth Lee gets a hug from a friend outside Laganside Court. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Gay rights activist Gareth Lee gets a hug from a friend outside Laganside Court. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Dr Michael Wardlow(left() from the Equality Commission and Gareth Lee(centre) pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
The DUP's Paul Givan(second from right) and Edwin Poots(second from left) pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arrive at court for the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arrive at court for the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arrive at court for the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arrive at court for the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Gareth Lee who had tried to order the cake. Gareth Lee(centre) pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Gareth Lee who had tried to order the cake. Gareth Lee(right) pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Gareth Lee who had trued to order the cake. Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Gareth Lee(centre) pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Gareth Lee receives a hug outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Ashers found guilty of discrimination in cake case. A judge has found a Christian bakery which refused to make a cake bearing a pro-gay marriage slogan guilty of discrimination. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast with his familly Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Daniel and Amy McArthur arrive at Laganside Court yesterday morning
Ashers' Daniel McArthur with his wife Amy and his parents Colin and Karen behind leave Laganside Court after the case finished
Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast with his family. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Daniel McArthur, general manager of Asher's Bakery gives a statement to the media before entering court
Ashers Baking Co on Belfast’s Royal Avenue, where Gareth Lee placed the order for the cake at the centre of the court action
Ashers bakery boss Daniel McArthur at Belfast Court. Pic Mark Simpson BBC
More than 2,000 people pack the Waterfront Hall to show support for Ashers bakery
Gareth Lee, whose lawyer put his side of the case to the court yesterday
Daniel and Amy McArthur arriving at Belfast County Court to fight a challenge by Northern Ireland's Equality Commission following their refusal to make a cake bearing a pro-gay marriage slogan. David Young/PA Wire
The cake at the centre of the Ashers row
Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast with his wife Amy on thursday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 26/3/2015 Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast with his wife Amy on thursday, Ashers face a discrimination case supported by the Equality Commission, after a dispute began when the Christian-run bakery refused a request to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Christian Institute support rally for Ashers bakery held at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. Photograph: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
Christian Institute support rally for Ashers bakery held at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. Photograph: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Daniel and Amy McArthur with their baby daughter Elia
Christian Institute support rally for Ashers bakery held at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. In attendance is the DUP's Sammy Wilson. Photograph:Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
The Ashers Baking Co outlet in Belfast’s Royal Avenue
Mayor Andrew Muir cutting a Sesame Street Bert and Ernie 'Support Gay Marriage' cake

The Christian owners of a bakery at the centre of the 'gay cake' row, thanked God as they left court yesterday for helping them through their "stressful" ordeal.

After three days of legal battle between Ashers Bakery and the gay rights activist whose cake order was refused by the company on religious grounds, County Court Judge Isobel Brownlie reserved judgment in the landmark case.

The directors of Ashers Bakery have been accused of discrimination by gay rights activist Gareth Lee who ordered a cake with the slogan 'support gay marriage' at the company's Royal Avenue shop in Belfast.

Initially owner Karen McArthur accepted the order but after discussions with her family she later contacted Mr Lee and told him his request could not be fulfilled because of their religious beliefs.

Leaving Laganside Courthouse at the conclusion of the hearing Ashers manager Daniel McArthur said: "It has been a very stressful time for the family. We are thankful that God has sustained us through it all and we now await the outcome from the judge."

Mr Lee left quietly. When asked if he wished to make a comment, he said: "Not today, not ever."

Last week the McArthurs argued that they did not have a problem with Mr Lee, their concern was with the message on the cake as it was contrary to their Christian beliefs. They said that they did not know that Mr Lee was gay.

However, Mr Lee's barrister, Robin Allen QC, said it was obvious that a person bringing in a graphic supporting gay marriage was likely to be gay. "It is the use of the word gay in the phrase that is the cause of the differential treatment," he said. "But for the word gay this order would have been fulfilled."

Mr Allen said this was not a case where there was an immediate refusal to enter into a contract. "You have a case where contract was accepted, where possession was taken knowingly of the graphic, where the graphic was not contrary to the terms and conditions," he said. "Ashers did not advertise themselves as a business with religious scruples. Mrs McArthur did not feel so strongly about this that she refused to take Mr Lee's money or his graphic."

Yesterday, it emerged that the Equality Commission had increased the amount it had set aside to fight the case by £7,000.

Last week, it said the case would cost it up to £33,000, but the court heard the fund had increased to £40,000 as the case had gone on for longer than expected.

Representing Ashers, David Scoffield QC warned against forcing someone to "promote a cause with which they don't agree." He outlined hypothetical cases to the court, should the judge decide to rule in Mr Lee's favour: "If the plaintiff is right, a Muslim printer could not decline printing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. An atheist baker could not decline baking a cake with the slogan God made the world in six days."

The QC said that even if they are rare, there are cases "where people are entitled to say 'I'm sorry, I'm not in conscience able to do that.'" "That is the proper balance of rights in this case," Mr Scoffield added.

What next?

Judge Brownlie has reserved judgment to allow time to consider the issues in this case. She is on holiday this week so will probably only begin to review the case next week. Given the complexities, it could be several weeks before the judgment is released. 

Gareth Lee's case: what the lawyers argued

  • Businesses like Ashers “cannot be allowed to break contracts with individuals ... in breach of equality law. If that is allowed the rule of law is worth nothing.”
  • Even religious bodies, if they venture into commercial practice, cannot discriminate. “You must supply goods and services to everybody.”
  • If the firm had scruples about certain orders, it would be reasonable to suppose that a director would know. When Mr Lee did business with a director, “you would have thought those scruples would have been made aware at that stage, but they weren’t.”
  • “It is the use of the word gay in the phrase that is the cause of the differential treatment. But for the word gay this order would have been fulfilled.”

Ashers’ case: what the lawyers argued

  • “As a matter of pure domestic law, properly analysed, there is no discrimination in this case.”
  • “This is a freedom of conscience case. The  evidence from the defendants is that they seek to  live at all times in accordance with the teachings of the Bible. The religious beliefs form the very core of who they are.”
  • “There has been no discrimination against  the plaintiff on the basis of any characteristics he possesses. The reason for declining was that they could not in conscience provide a product supporting a cause inconsistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
  • “It would be an infringement of (the McArthur’s) Article 9 rights (the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion) to require them to promote a message with which they are fundamentally disagreed.”

 

Further Reading

Judgement reserved in Ashers 'gay cake' case

Cake row shows up the intolerant type of Christian

What Ashers did is discrimination

Ashers gay cake case: Our reporter visited the nearby city centre bakery under siege from scores of hungry customers  

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