The full Supreme Court judgement in Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd  UKSC 49 can be found at supremecourt.
This is one of several cases that have come before courts in this country and abroad, where bakery companies have been asked to bake cakes for particular occasions or with particular messages. The legal situation is not always the same in different countries because of different anti-discrimination legislation. This particular case had been decided in Northern Ireland and the judgement was appealed to the Supreme court.
The reaction to the findings of the court has been mixed, some agreeing with the verdict, some seeing it as declaring open season on service providers to discriminate against LGBTQ people. The legal situation in Northern Ireland is different from the legal situation in the rest of the UK, so the findings are not binding on Scotland, Wales or England but they may be persuasive for future judgements.
I think the judgement was right, that Mr Lee was not discriminated against for being gay. He has bought cakes from the same company before and they had been happy to fulfil previous orders. What was different this time was the particular message – ‘support gay marriage’ – he wanted on the cake. It was also accepted that anyone else who had come in to the shop and wanted that message would have been refused. I agree that it was not about the person, but about the message.
It is not legal in Northern Ireland to discriminate against someone on the basis of their political or religious views. If the message was a political one then, provided it was not hate speech, the bakers should have treated all political messages equally. As a political message, the bakers should have accepted the order, in the same way they would have for any other political campaign.
If religion had not come into it, things would be simple – he wasn’t discriminated against and they would have done the cake the way he wanted. However, religion did come into it and legislation about freedom of religion. While I have some sympathy with this, I think on this point that the court should have ruled differently. The message was sufficiently mild that, even though they may have disagreed with it, it does not compromise the fundamentals of their religion.
2 thoughts on “Having our cake and eating it”
Thank you for the link, it was one that I had missed.
It certainly does show how this situation can develop unexpected consequences. The way that this is presented is very well thought out, showing the idea that the company accepted the photography job in good faith and then subsequently learned the real nature of the task, so the photographer felt uncomfortable with the nature of the assignment. The judgement changes the case law in this area, so the photography company saw the opportunity and took it. By acting in this way and explicitly basing their actions on this new judgement, they themselves are setting a precedent.
An extension of this principle, could lead to the expectation that businesses will refuse any contract they don’t agree with. So, any contract they take will be one that they do not find offensive, which could imply endorsement of the message.
An interesting reflection. Its always difficult to know the motives on either side of the fence, so I like the neutrality with which you present this. In this (perhaps) accusatory piece from OUT.COM there is the suggestion that a right wing Christian Group bank-rolled the case. Interestingly refusing services on moral grounds works in both directions (if there are only two) as the articles suggests.
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