Belfast Telegraph

Ashers gay cake case goes to the European court

Amy and Daniel McArthur of Ashers Bakery
Amy and Daniel McArthur of Ashers Bakery
Gareth Lee
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A legal case involving a Belfast bakery that refused to make a cake with the slogan 'Support Gay Marriage' will face fresh scrutiny in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The latest development in the dispute comes after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Ashers Bakery, which is owned by Daniel and Amy McArthur.

In 2014, the company refused to make the cake for Gareth Lee as they said it conflicted with their religious and political beliefs.

It was initially found by Belfast County Court in 2015 that Ashers had broken political, religious and sexual orientation discrimination laws.

The Court of Appeal in Belfast then upheld the decision before it was overturned by the Supreme Court last year.

This time, Ashers will not be implicated as the case is being taken against the United Kingdom instead.

Human rights solicitors Phoenix Law were instructed by Mr Lee to take the case.

The firm said they will argue that the Supreme Court failed to give appropriate weight to Mr Lee's rights under the European Convention of Human Rights.

"One of the main arguments is: We challenge the concept that a business can have religious beliefs," Phoenix Law said.

"Its owners may, but businesses, brands and companies are separate from their owners and their personal and private views."

Mr Lee added: "I'd fight for the rights of business owners to be able to hold their own religious beliefs.

"I have my own beliefs. But that's not what my case has ever been about. This is about limited companies being somehow able to pick and choose which customers they will serve. It's such a dangerous precedent."

His solicitor Ciaran Moynagh said: "No legislation is perfect, but in equality law a hard line must be drawn to ensure no discrimination of any type exists.

"We're concerned the ruling, in this case, allows any company, its shareholders or owners to hold religious or political views and those views trump the rights of its customers. The Supreme Court ruling blurred the line, creates legal uncertainty for all of us in Northern Ireland and the ECHR is the appropriate place to clarify this issue."

At the time, Supreme Court president Lady Hale said Ashers did not refuse Mr Lee's order because of his sexual orientation or political views.

"The bakers could not refuse to supply their goods to Mr Lee because he was a gay man or supported gay marriage," she said. "But that is quite different from obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed."

The court battles to date have cost a total of £500,000 - half by the Equality Commission on behalf of Mr Lee and half by the Christian Institute to fund the McArthurs' appeal.

In February, the Christian Institute said that they would not be taking steps to recover the costs.

Dr Michael Wardlow, the head of the Equality Commission, also defended spending the large sum of public money, saying it had been prudently spent and was important to support Mr Lee.

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