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Ashers verdict may be right in law, but it leaves deep unease

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 20/05/2015

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 Baking Co on Belfast’s Royal Avenue, where Gareth Lee placed the order for the cake at the centre of the court action

Finally, after weeks of deliberation, the court has spoken and found Ashers bakery guilty of discriminating against a gay man by refusing to bake him a cake bearing a pro-gay marriage slogan. In the judge's view the verdict was inevitable as the law prohibits the bakery for acting as it did.

She accepted that the owners of the bakery had genuine and deeply held religious views - but those could not override the law as it stands.

The verdict may have gone against the bakery - although it seems likely that it will be appealed, possibly right up to the highest court in Europe - but, really, there were no winners. Yes, it has been established that a business cannot refuse to fulfil orders just because they run contrary to its own deeply held and sincere views, but that does little for common sense or the advancement of gay rights.

This newspaper has consistently made it clear that it does not support discrimination in any of its forms, yet, along with many Christians reading the verdict of the court, we are filled with a sense of unease.

The court heard that this was a case of competing human rights, but it does appear that there is a hierarchy of rights as the bakery owners were obliged in law to act against their genuine beliefs.

The European Court, for example, uses the term "reasonable accommodation" when it talks about balancing competing rights. To many lay people the most reasonable accommodation that could have been made in this case was for the injured party to take his order to a different bakery.

No one seriously suggests that the bakery owners are bigots. Many people may disagree with their views on gay relationships but surely they are entitled to hold those views, notwithstanding the law here putting limitations on the manifestation of religious beliefs in order to protect wider rights.

The Equality Commission may feel it has established an important principle, but it is one that could lead to a series of vexatious court cases. Has the campaign for gay rights or against discrimination been reduced to a bun fight over icing on a cake? What does that say about our priorities?

Read more:

Tesco reviewing Ashers 'gay cake' judgement 

Everyone a loser in 'gay cake' row

Ashers verdict may be right in law, but it leaves deep unease  

Ashers 'gay cake' decision is a threat to our freedom of conscience 

'Gay cake': It's a ruling to rejoice in, but gays are still very afraid

Gay cake case: Branded law breakers by a court, but beaming McArthurs insist they have no regrets  

Gay cake verdict shows laws needed to allow for differing views, says DUP's Sammy Wilson  

Ashers 'gay cake' case made news all around the world  

By elevating icing on a cake to a major issue, gay rights activists won battle but lost the war  

Gay cake case: Churches united in criticism of 'dangerous' Ashers bakery decision

Ashers bakery couple: Guilty by law, but we're innocent in God's eyes  

Verdict was particularly disappointing for Christians, whose prayers weren't answered  

Ashers' customers divided on outcome of case  

Ashers Bakery lose 'gay cake' case: 'We will not be closing down, we have not done anything wrong' says boss

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