Judge finds Ashers had “unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff”
The Belfast bakers found guilty of discrimination for refusing to make a cake bearing a pro-same-sex marriage slogan have said they are “extremely disappointed” with the judgment.
The North’s Equality Commission brought the case on behalf of Gareth Lee, a gay rights activist whose order for a cake with a picture of the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie and the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” was declined by Ashers.
In a lengthy judgment at Belfast County Court on Tuesday, district judge Isobel Brownlie said the defendants had “unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff on the grounds of his sexual orientation”, describing this as “direct discrimination for which there can be no justification”.
Speaking afterwards, Daniel McArthur, the general manager of Ashers said, “We’ve said from the start that our issue was with the message on the cake, not the customer, and we didn’t know what the sexual orientation of Mr Lee was.”
“We’ve always been happy to serve any customers that come into our shops,” he added, having said during the March trial that the company has many gay customers, with Mr Lee saying he had previously purchased items in that branch of Ashers.
Explaining that the bakery, which has six branches and employs 80 people, would not be closing down, and would be taking legal advice about appealing the decision, Mr McArthur said, “Like so many others we just want to live and work in accordance with our religious beliefs.”
Senator Jim Walsh, reacting to the ruling, said the case “obviously raises grave concerns regarding the extent to which people of faith can be compelled by law to compromise their deeply held religious beliefs and the consequences both for individuals and businesses should they refuse to do so.”
Pointing out that marriage is not the only issue at stake in the marriage referendum, Senator Walsh said: “Freedom of opinion and freedom of conscience, for individuals, businesses and schools, are also on the chopping block.”
Mr McArthur said he was considering appealing the case.