Christian bakers win 'gay cake' battle at Supreme Court

David Blevins interviews the bakers at the heart of the Northern Ireland gay cake controversy

Five Supreme Court justices allowed a challenge by the McArthur family, whose Ashers bakery business is in Belfast, in a unanimous ruling.

The Belfast bakery has been at the centre of a years-long legal dispute that has seen them accused of acting in a discriminatory way by refusing the order of gay rights activist Gareth Lee.

The court's president, Lady Hale, said: "This conclusion is not in any way to diminish the need to protect gay people and people who support gay marriage from discrimination. But that is not what happened in this case", Lady Hale said.

"So there was no discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation". The bakery stressed, however, that they had nothing personal against Lee and they would have refused the request had it been made by a straight person too.

He said: "Although I profoundly disagree with Ashers opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be forced to facilitate a political idea that they oppose".

Ashers Baking Company in Belfast would have refused to decorate a cake with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage", whoever had ordered it.

And, she added, "the message on the cake would not just be for the benefit of gay people - but also for their families and friends and anyone who recognises the social benefits which the commitment involved in gay marriage can bring".

"I paid my money, my money was taken and then a few days later it was refused".

Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, said the judgment "may raise uncertainty" about what businesses can do and what customers may expect. We will take time to review the judgement in detail.

The initial court hearing in Northern Ireland ruled in Gareth Lee's favour, saying they had unlawfully discriminated.

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They agreed: "The objection was to being required to promote the message on the cake".

"While sympathetic as some may be to the position in which the company finds itself, this does not change the facts of the case".

"We believe this is direct discrimination for which there can be no justification", director John O'Doherty said.

The court ruled Wednesday that Ashers acted lawfully and didn't discriminate against anyone. The Equality Commission has spent more than £250,000 of tax revenue on legal fees. "This ruling affirms that this was never the case".

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which backed Mr Lee, argued that the message on the cake was associated with his support for law reform.

Controversy first flared when Lee, a member of the LGBT advocacy group QueerSpace, ordered a cake in 2014 featuring Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie for a private function marking International Day Against Homophobia.

We are particularly pleased the Supreme Court judges emphatically accepted what we've said all along.

The key difference is that B&B owners Hazelmary and Peter Bull were adjudged to have been discriminating against the couple themselves, while the McArthurs were not discriminating against Mr Lee, but rather disagreed with the message he wanted on his cake.

Lee's lawyer Robin Allen said the tremendous media attention generated by the case across the United Kingdom has been hard for his client.

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