Alan McCormack | Senior Associate

“Support Gay Marriage” Cake message – Appeal to the European Court of Human Rights

Mr Gareth Lee is to challenge the ruling that the Northern Ireland Bakery had the right to refuse to bake a cake with the pro gay marriage message, taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Mr Lee sued the bakery, on the grounds of discriminating against him on the grounds of his sexual orientation, by refusing to make the cake with the “support gay marriage” message on it. The owners of Ashers Bakery confirmed to Mr Lee in 2014 that it would not make this cake with such a message because it was contrary to their religious beliefs.
The Supreme Court ruled that the owners of the bakery, who are both Evangelical Christians, had a right to refuse to bake it on the basis that it related to their religion rather than Mr Lee’s sexual orientation. Therefore, the five Judges from the Supreme Court found in 2018 that Mr Lee’s Order was not refused because of his sexual orientation.
However, Mr Lee has now instructed his lawyers to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights on the basis that baking the cake did not imply “the bakery supporting (expressly or implicitly) the message of the cake”, and that no reasonable person would equate producing the cake for an individual private customer with the bakery supporting the pro gay marriage message that he wanted on it.
In the appeal, they will argue that the cake was not displayed in a shop window, was for personal use, and would become Mr Lee’s private property upon payment and collection. Further to this, it will be argued that “there is no such thing as a ‘Christian business’”, and therefore this cannot be given legal recognition by a Court.
Mr Lee states that “this is about limited companies being somehow able to pick and choose what customers they will serve. It is such a dangerous precedent”. The Supreme Court Judges had concluded that “the bakers could not refuse to supply their goods to Mr Lee because he was a gay man or supported gay marriage, but that is quite a different thing from obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagree”.
At the time this case was raised, Northern Ireland was still the only part of the UK where same sex marriage was not recognised in law. This remains the case until the end of October when, if devolved Government is not returned to the region, Westminster will impose legislation that will make it illegal.

Alan McCormack

Alan McCormack

Employment Law Team

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