In a landmark ruling, a judge has ruled that a Christian run bakery in County Antrim discriminated against a gay couple when they refused to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage message.
Gareth Lee had asked for the cake to feature Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie, as well as a message supporting the campaign for gay marriage.
Ashers Bakers always denied knowing that Mr Lee was gay, and that it was the political message that was refused.
However, it was decided that, as a business, Ashers Bakery was not exempt from discrimination law.
The firm’s general manager said he was “extremely disappointed” by the ruling, and stated they are considering an appeal.
The gay couple will now receive £500 compensation, all of which is going to be donated to charity.
The firm was found to have discriminated against Mr Lee on the grounds of sexual orientation, as well as his political beliefs.
The judge conceded that Ashers has “genuine and deeply held” religious views, but that their business wasn’t against the law.
Mr Lee was assisted in taking legal action by the Equality Commission.
Speaking outside Belfast County Court after the ruling, Ashers general manager Daniel McArthur said his company was “extremely disappointed with the judgment”.
“We’ve said from the start that our issue was with the message on the cake, not with the customer and that we didn’t know what the sexual orientation of Mr Lee was, and it wasn’t relevant either. We’ve always been happy to serve any customers who come into our shops.
“The ruling suggests that all business owners will have to be willing to promote any cause or campaign, no matter how much they disagree with it.”
However, boss of the Equalities Commission Michael Wardlow says the decision had “vindicated” their decision to support the case.
“We started off by saying that we believed that there had been a discriminatory act. The judge has upheld it – that both under sexual orientation regulations, political and religious opinion, that there were discriminatory acts.”
Mr Wardlow added: “We’re here to help people who otherwise couldn’t help themselves and in this particular case it’s clear that Gareth was discriminated against, the judge has made that clear.”
Opinion, unsurprisingly has been mixed across the political spectrum in relation to the verdict. Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness tweeted: “Ashers bakery judgement a good result for equality, gay people have for far too long been discriminated against. We and the law on their side.”
However, DUP MLA Paul Givan, who has proposed that lawmakers in the Northern Ireland Assembly introduce a “conscience clause” as a result of the Ashers case, said many Christians would view the ruling as “an attack” on their religious convictions.
“What we cannot have is a hierarchy of rights, and today there’s a clear hierarchy being established that gay rights are more important than the rights of people to hold religious beliefs,” Mr Givan added.
No, anyone who knows me knows there isn’t a homophobic bone in my body, but I am concerned about the precedent this sets. Will every company have to provide a product for the public, no matter how offensive it is to them? If I go to a Muslim bakers and ask them to do a picture of Mohammad eating a bacon sandwich, can I get compensated when they refuse? Seriously, why would they be allowed to refuse as it offends their beliefs? It may not be the result that is the issue (I back gay marriage 100%), but the precedent that it sets.
I suspect we may not have heard the last of this case, as it has certainly led to people having contrasting opinions.
So what do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.
Since then, he has specialised in articles on the battle for equal rights for sex workers, sexual health, as well as bringing the readers fun news from around the world. He also has a major interest in LGBT rights, and is an active campaigner in this field.
When he isn't fighting the good fight, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, and young daughter. He also enjoys reading and taking long walks.