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Gay cake row: Bakery GUILTY of discrimination, judge rules

The Christian-run bakery is not exempt from discrimination law, a court was told this morning.

The proposed cake design.
The proposed cake design.
Image: Youtube/Christianorguk

Updated at 12.42 pm

A JUDGE IN Northern Ireland has handed down a decision in the row over a Christian-run bakery’s refusal to bake a ‘gay cake’.

In a verdict delivered to a packed courthouse this morning, District Judge Isobel Brownlie said it was a clear case of discrimination.

The Ashers Bakery Company had initially taken the order from a customer for a cake with a picture of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street – with a slogan that read  ’Support Gay Marriage’. The customer also asked for the logo of LGBT organisation Queer Space to be placed on the icing.

Igniting what was to become a long-running public row – Ashers said that, after consulting about the order, they decided that they would not be able to complete it, and informed the customer before refunding him.

Ashers Bakery court case Gareth Lee leaves Laganside Court in Belfast Source: Stephen Kilkenny

Gareth Lee – a gay rights activist – took the civil case against the family-owned bakery, with the backing of the Northern Ireland Equality Commission.

The case was heard before a court in Belfast in March.

The ruling

The ruling was read out by the judge, in front of a packed courtroom in Belfast this morning. Former DUP health minister Edwin Poots was amongst the spectators, in the public gallery.

There was confusion earlier - after initial reports from the court that judge had already issued her ruling, and had found that it was not a case of discrimination.

However, as the judge continued to read her verdict – it became clear the opposite finding would be made. The bakery was told that it wasn’t exempt from discrimination law.

The ruling argued that discrimination would also occur in the case of a baker who refused to bake a case advocating heterosexual marriage. Judge Brownlie’s judgement read:

If the Plaintiff was a gay man who ran a bakery business and the defendants as Christians wanted him to bake a cake with the words “support heterosexual marriage” the plaintiff would be required to do so as, otherwise; he would, according to the law be discrimination against the Defendants. This is not a law which is for one belief only but is equal to and for all.

Ashers Bakery court case Daniel McArthur of Ashers Bakery Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

‘Hierarchy of rights’

Some unionist politicians have been supporting the bakery in the row. Three DUP MPs launched a petition last year backing them, and Peter Robinson, the first minister, described the Equality Commission’s decision to back the court bid as “bonkers”.

Speaking after the delivery of today’s verdict, DUP MLA Paul Givan said that the verdict has created a ’hierarchy of rights’ that should be addressed by politicians:

What we cannot have is a hierarchy of rights and today there’s a clear hierarchy being established that gay rights are more important than the rights of people to hold religious beliefs. And we need to now move in the Assembly to strike the right balance.

This argument was directly countered by Lee’s legal representative, Robin Allen QC, who said that no such hierarchy exists. Allen says that the bakery simply ‘broke the law’:

She (the judge) made it absolutely clear, as I was instructed to argue by the Equality Commission, that if it was a bakery run by a gay man that refused to ice a cake saying ‘support opposite sex marriage’, it would be just as unlawful as it would be in this case. That really does prove the point that there aren’t a hierarchy of rights. It’s just that they broke the law in this case.

Same-sex marriage remains illegal in Northern Ireland. It’s now the only part of the UK where gay marriage is not allowed – after England, Wales and Scotland backed the unions in 2014.

- With reporting from Rónán Duffy

Read: Northern Ireland rejects same sex marriage for third time in 18 months

Read: Bakery refuses to make Sesame Street ‘Support Gay Marriage’ cake

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