Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Northern Ireland Appeals Court Upholds Anti-Gay Discrimination Finding Against Bakery

In a widely watched case, the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland yesterday upheld the finding of a trial judge that a bakery had illegally discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation in the  provision of goods and services to the public when it refused an order for a cake for a private event marking the end of 'Northern Ireland Anti-homophobic Week' and the political momentum towards same-sex marriage legislation.  The cake was to feature a picture of 'Bert and Ernie' (the logo for QueerSpace) with the caption, "Support Gay Marriage."  In Lee v. McArthur, (NI CA, Oct. 24, 2016), the 3-judge panel rejected the religious freedom and compelled speech defenses advanced by Ashers Bakery.  The court rejected the notion that the cake forced the bakery to express approval for same-sex marriage, saying in part:
The fact that a baker provides a cake for a particular team or portrays witches on a Halloween cake does not indicate any support for either.
The court rejected broadly defendants' religious discrimination arguments, saying:
Anyone who applies a religious aspect or a political aspect to the provision of services may be caught by equality legislation, not because the legislation treats their religious belief or political opinion less favourably but because that person seeks to distinguish, on a basis that is prohibited, between those who will receive their service and those who will not....  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 belief in relation to sexual orientation.
The Guardian, reporting on the decision, says that the decision will be appealed to the UK's Supreme Court.