A family-owned Christian bakery in Northern Ireland has today been found guilty of discrimination for declining to decorate a cake with a pro-gay marriage message.
On this side of the Atlantic, several Christian-owned bakeries and florists have also gotten themselves into similar legal controversies because of their support for traditional marriage and opposition to same-sex marriage.
The controversy started in May 2014 when a customer, who reportedly is an LGBT activist, ordered a cake from the Ashers Baking Company’s Belfast store with a gay marriage slogan along with a picture of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street and the logo of the activist group Queerspace.
After initially accepting the order, Ashers notified the customer about two days later that it would not go forward with the order.
“The cake was ordered for a private function to mark [the] International Day Against Homophobia last year,” Yahoo! News reported.
Same-sex marriage is not yet legal in Northern Ireland, although it is elsewhere in the U.K.
Gareth Lee, the customer, took Ashers to Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission, which filed the lawsuit against the bakery.
“Karen McArthur, who founded Ashers with her husband Colin, said she initially accepted the cake order to avoid a confrontation but, as a born-again Christian, knew in her heart that she could not fulfil the request. After discussing the issue with her husband and son Daniel, she telephoned Mr. Lee and informed him the cake would not be made,” the Daily Mail explained.
Lee told the court in Belfast during a three-day hearing that he felt like a “lesser person” and not worthy of service as a result of Ashers’ cancellation.
In entering a judgment against the bakery, the presiding judge concluded that the company broke the law by engaging in sexual orientation discrimination. “The defendants are not a religious organization. They conduct a business for profit. As much as I acknowledge their religious beliefs, this is a business to provide service to all. The law says they must do that.”
Ashers was fined the equivalent of about $775 in damages, which Lee says will be donated to charity.
Parenthetically, the customer apparently was able to obtain the cake from an alternative vendor. There are about 100 bakeries in Belfast.
Daniel McArthur, Ashers’ general manager, insisted that the customer’s sexual orientation was irrelevant and that the fundamental issue was the slogan on the cake. “The ruling suggests that all business owners have to be willing to promote any cause or campaign no matter how much they disagree with it … like so many others, we just want to live and work in accordance with our religious beliefs.”
McArthur has not ruled out appealing the judge’s decision to a higher court and declared that the company will continue to stay in business. Ashers employs about 80 workers in multiple stores in the U.K.
Some lawmakers have proposed a conscience clause to be added to Northern Ireland’s Equality Act to allow Christians or others with deeply held religious beliefs to opt out of certain transactions that go against their faith-based convictions.
[image via YouTube]