Understanding anti-discrimination rules

Posted: 31st October 2016

discriminationAny business, however small, that deals with the public would be wise to seek legal advice on how to ensure compliance with anti-discrimination laws. In one case that made that point, a retail bakery was found to have discriminated against a gay customer when it refused to ice the message ‘Support Gay Marriage’ onto a cake.

The directors of Ashers Baking Co, based in Newtonabbey near Belfast, are evangelical Christians who were opposed to same-sex marriages, which are not currently legal in Northern Ireland. The man had tried to order a cake depicting the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie below the motto. After they turned down the man’s message request, and refunded the price of the cake, a judge found that they and the bakery had directly discriminated against him on grounds of his sexual orientation.

In challenging that decision, the directors pointed to their genuine and sincerely held opposition to gay marriage, which they viewed as sinful. Had it not been for the message he requested, they would have been willing to supply the man with the cake. They would also have refused to supply a heterosexual customer who asked for the same message. It was submitted that to have complied with the man’s request would have amounted to a betrayal of their faith.

In dismissing their appeal, however, the Court of Appeal rejected arguments that the finding of discrimination breached their human rights to freely pursue and express their religious beliefs. It was the use of the word ‘Gay’ in the requested message that prevented the order from being fulfilled. The reason why the directors would not provide a cake bearing the requested message was because they would not support a right to marry for those of a particular sexual orientation.