Irish Christian bakers lost their appeal in court challenging a conviction of discrimination against a gay man by declining to bake a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage two years ago. Their appeal was turned down on October 24.
Ashers Baking Company was found guilty by a lower court of discriminating against Gareth Lee who ordered a cake with icing in the shape of Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie accompanied by a message 'Support Gay Marriage' and a logo of gay rights group QueerSpace. The bakers were fined £500 in 2015 for violating equality legislation by discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The Ashers said that baking such a cake was inconsistent with their sincerely-held religious beliefs.
"This order was at odds with our beliefs, it certainly was a contradiction of what the Bible teaches," Daniel McArthur, the general manager of the bakery in Belfast, Northern Ireland, had said in response to the allegations of discrimination.
Many gay rights activists opposed the court ruling. LGBT activist Peter Tatchell wrote on his website that the ruling goes against free speech and expression.
"The judgement opens a can of worms," Tatchell said. "It means that a Muslim printer could be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed and a Jewish printer could be required to publish a book that propagates Holocaust denial... What the court has decided sets a dangerous, authoritarian precedent that is open to serious abuse," he noted.
However, the court said that since the cake was declined because of protected sexual orientation, it was clearly a discrimination.
"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 court stated.
The defendants disagreed, and pointed out that the ruling is in violation of law in Northern Ireland where gay marriage is illegal.
"We have always said it: It was never about the customer, it was about the message," said McArthur. "But now we're being told that we have to promote the message, even if it's against our conscience."