Daniel and Amy McArthur, who own Ashers Bakery in Belfast, leave the Supreme Court in London, Britain, October 10 2018. Picture: REUTERS/SIMON DAWSON
Daniel and Amy McArthur, who own Ashers Bakery in Belfast, leave the Supreme Court in London, Britain, October 10 2018. Picture: REUTERS/SIMON DAWSON

London — The UK’s highest court says the owners of a bakery in Northern Ireland did not discriminate against a customer when they refused to make a cake with icing that spelled out the words “support gay marriage”. 

The Supreme Court in London unanimously agreed to allow an appeal by the bakers after a gay-rights activist had successfully argued in the lower courts that he had suffered discrimination on the grounds of his sexual orientation.

The five judges said the law did not oblige the bakers to make a cake featuring a message with which they disagreed.

“The bakers did not refuse to fulfil his order because of his sexual orientation, their objection is to the message on the cake,” said Judge Brenda Hale, president of the Supreme Court. “The bakers’ objection is to the message not to the man.”

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where same-sex marriage is not allowed. The British government maintains that the decision should be left to local authorities.

The family-run Ashers bakery refused the order in 2014 for a cake with a depiction of the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie and the words in support of gay marriage, saying their conscience would not allow them to produce such a cake.

The judges found that the family both employed and served gay people. “It is humiliating, and an affront to human dignity, to deny someone a service because of that person’s race, gender, disability, sexual orientation or any of the other protected personal characteristics,” Judge Hale said. “But that is not what happened in this case.”

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland said the judgment “may raise uncertainty” about what businesses can do and what customers may expect. “The beliefs of business owners may take precedence over a customer’s equality rights,” the commission said.

In June, the US Supreme Court reopened the case of a florist who says she should not have to provide flowers for same-sex weddings, telling a lower court to reconsider an order that required her to comply with a Washington state anti-discrimination law. The US high court has also overturned an order against a Colorado baker who refused to make cakes for gay weddings.

Bloomberg

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