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Does Sexual Orientation beat Religious Beliefs in Top Trumps?


The Court of Appeal upholds “gay cake case” discrimination ruling.

The Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland has upheld a decision that Ashers Bakery in County Antrim had directly discriminated against a customer on the grounds of sexual orientation by refusing to bake a cake supporting same-sex marriage.

Cases in this controversial area are relevant for employers because the trend has been for courts and tribunals to find that employers are entitled to take steps to ensure that services are delivered on an equal opportunities basis, even if these steps conflict with an employee’s religious beliefs.

In 2014, an order was given to the bakery for a customised cake with the caption “Support Gay Marriage”. Days later, after discussion within the family firm, the would-be customer was told that the order could not be fulfilled, as the bakery was a “Christian business” and it should not have accepted the order.

The order was cancelled because of the religious beliefs of the the bakery directors, who said they were opposed to a change in the law regarding gay marriage, which they regard as sinful.

The Court of Appeal found that  “The appellants would not have objected to a cake carrying the message ‘Support Heterosexual Marriage’ or indeed ‘Support Marriage’.  We accept that it was the use of the word ‘gay’ in the context of the message which prevented the order from being fulfilled.”

“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. This was a case of association with the gay and bisexual community and the protected personal characteristic was the sexual orientation of that community. Accordingly this was direct discrimination.”

The “gay cake case” is one of a number of legal cases examining the clash between the right to hold religious beliefs and protection against sexual orientation discrimination.

The Court of Appeal further found that the relevant legislation is not incompatible with articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This type of complex, multi-layered complaint is best investigated by highly experienced professionals working from up to date understanding of the current legislation. Don’t take the risk, refer your cases to CMP!

A full report on the judgment in Lee v Ashers Baking Co Ltd and others, including the implications for employers.