A man’s complaint that he was discriminated against by Christian bakers who refused to make him a cake with an LGBTQ+ message on it has been dismissed.
In May 2014, Northern Irish gay rights activist Gareth Lee ordered a cake with a design featuring Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie, along with the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’, to celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia.
However, the Christian owners of Belfast-based Ashers bakery, Daniel and Amy McArthur, declined to make the cake, citing their religious beliefs.
On Thursday, January 6, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Lee’s claim that he had been discriminated against by the bakers on the grounds of his sexuality was dismissed as legally ‘inadmissible’.
In its ruling, the ECHR stated, ‘Convention arguments must be raised explicitly or in substance before the domestic authorities,’ Sky News reports.
Moreover, within the ‘domestic proceedings’ it noted that ‘the applicant had not invoked his Convention rights’.
By relying solely on domestic law, the applicant had deprived the domestic courts of the opportunity to address any Convention issues raised, instead asking the court to usurp the role of the domestic courts.
The ECHR concluded that the application was subsequently ‘inadmissible’ because Lee had ‘failed to exhaust domestic remedies’.
The case initially won hearings in both 2015 and 2016, at the county court and Northern Ireland Court of Appeal.
At the UK Supreme Court in 2018, however, it was unanimously ruled by five justices that the bakers, who were being supported by the Christian institute, had not discriminated against Lee.
The McArthurs were originally ordered to pay damages of £500 by District Judge Isobel Brownlie, who ruled that the law should not be dictated by religious beliefs.
However, in one of the later court cases, former president of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, noted how ‘the only form of marriage consistent with the Bible and acceptable to God is between a man and a woman’.
She went on:
As to Mr Lee’s claim based on sexual discrimination, the bakers did not refuse to fulfil his order because of his sexual orientation.
They would have refused to make such a cake for any customer, irrespective of their sexual orientation.
Hale concluded that the Christian couple’s ‘objection’ had been ‘to the message on the cake, not to the personal characteristics of Mr Lee or of anyone else with whom he was associated’.
Lee previously stated that the incident left him feeling like a ‘second-class citizen’.
The incident is not the first time that a baker has found themselves at the centre of a court case over accusations of discrimination in relation to someone’s sexuality.
In 2012, same-sex couple Charlie Craig and David Mullin sued Colorado baker Jack Phillips for refusing to make them a birthday cake.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, contact the LGBT Foundation on 0345 3 30 30 30, 10am–6pm Monday to Friday, or email [email protected]
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