BELFAST, Northern Ireland — The Christian owners of a bakery in Northern Ireland have lost their appeal of a ruling declaring them guilty of discrimination for declining to print the phrase “Support Gay Marriage” on a cake.
“In the present case the appellants might elect not to provide a service that involves any religious or political message. What they may not do is provide a service that only reflects their own political or religious message in relation to sexual orientation,” declared Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan of the Belfast Court of Appeals on Monday.
He was joined in his opinion by Lord Justices Ronald Weatherup and Reginald Weir.
As previously reported, in May 2014, Ashers Baking Company in Newtonabbey—named after Genesis 49:20—was approached by a same-sex “marriage” supporter to bake a cake that was to feature the phrase, as well as the logo for the homosexual advocacy group QueerSpace. According to the Belfast Telegraph, the cake was for an event in observance of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Karen McArthur, the mother of manager Daniel McArthur, then 24, initially accepted the order as she didn’t want the man to feel embarrassed. But as the matter was discussed with other family members, it was agreed upon that they could not go through with putting the message on the cake in good conscience before God.
Daniel McArthur told reporters that the company contacted the customer and offered a refund, explaining that same-sex “marriage” is against their Christian beliefs.
However, the customer, Gareth Lee, soon reported Ashers Baking Company to the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland, which in turn sent a warning to to McArthur, stating that he and his bakery had discriminated against Lee.
In November 2015, the Commission ordered the bakery to pay compensation or face legal action. As the McArthur’s refused, the case moved forward in court. Judge Isobel Brownlie then ruled against the McArthurs, declaring them “guilty of unlawful discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation,” and ordered the bakers to pay a fine equating to nearly $800 U.S. dollars.
“This is direct discrimination for which there can be no justification,” Brownlie said. “The defendants are not a religious organization. They are conducting a business for profit and, notwithstanding their genuine religious beliefs, there are no exceptions available under the 2006 regulations which apply to this case.”
Asher’s Bakery has stated that it is willing to serve homosexuals in general—one would not know about another’s sexual behavior unless they had requested a cake for such reasons—but should not be forced to decorate cakes with messages that urge others to “support gay marriage” in violation of their faith.
”This has never been about the customer. It has been about a message promoting a cause that contradicts the Bible,” McArthur said.
The McArthur’s therefore appealed the ruling last June, and the case went back to court. On Monday, the Belfast Court of Appeals concluded that the bakery “discriminated against the respondent directly on the grounds of sexual orientation contrary to the Equality Act Regulations 2006.”
“The reason that the order was cancelled was that the appellants would not provide a cake with a message supporting a right to marry for those of a particular sexual orientation,” Morgan said. “This was a case of association with the gay and bisexual community and the protected personal characteristic was the sexual orientation of that community.”
He asserted that creating the message doesn’t equal personal support.
“The fact that a baker provides a cake for a particular [sports] team or portrays witches on a Halloween cake does not indicate any support for either,” Morgan stated.
But McArthur expressed deep disappointment and advised that his family is exploring their options for appeal.
“If equality law means people can be punished for politely refusing to support other people’s causes then equality law needs to change,” he said. “This ruling undermines democratic freedom, it undermines religious freedom and it undermines free speech.”
“We had served Mr. Lee before and we would be happy to serve him again,” McArthur stated. “The judges accepted that we did not know that Mr. Lee was gay and that he was not the reason we declined the order. We have always said it was not about the customer, it was about the message.”
As previously reported, in April 2015, an appeals court in Kentucky overturned a guilty verdict against Christian screenprinter Hands on Originals, stating that the business had a right to decline to print wording on t-shirts for a “gay pride” event.
The court noted that from 2010-2012 Hands on Originals declined 13 orders from various groups because of the message that was to be printed.
“Those print orders that were refused by HOO included shirts promoting a strip club, pens promoting a sexually explicit video and shirts containing a violence-related message,” it explained. “There is further evidence in the Commission record that it is standard practice within the promotional printing industry to decline to print materials containing messages that the owners do not want to support.”
“Nonetheless, the Commission punished HOO for declining to print messages advocating sexual activity to which HOO and its owners strongly oppose on sincerely held religious grounds,” the court continued. “The Commission’s order substantially burdens HOO’s and its owners’ free exercise of religion, wherein the government punished HOO and its owners by its order for their sincerely held religious beliefs. This is contrary to established constitutional law.”