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Customer takes 'gay cake row' case to European Court of Human Rights

Lawyers for Gareth Lee are seeking to challenge the concept that a business can have religious views.

Gareth Lee, file photo.
Gareth Lee, file photo.
Image: Victoria Jones

A LEGAL CASE involving a Belfast bakery that refused to make a cake with a message supporting gay marriage is going to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Lawyers representing Gareth Lee, the customer who was refused the cake in the 2014 incident, said today that they had been instructed to take the case to the court in Strasbourg to challenge a UK supreme court ruling that found that the evangelical Christian owners of Ashers Bakery had a right to refuse to bake the cake.  

Phoenix Law said that the latest battle does not directly implicate the owners of Ashers Bakery or challenge their right to privately hold their views. Instead the case will be against the United Kingdom.

Last year the UK supreme court reversed earlier decisions at Belfast county court and court of appeal that Lee had been discriminated against on the grounds of him being gay.

Lee’s lawyers are seeking to challenge the concept that a business can have religious views. “Its owners may, but businesses, brands and companies are separate from their owners and their personal and private views,” the firm said in a statement to TheJournal.ie.

“I’d fight for the rights of business owners to be able to hold their own religious beliefs. I have my own beliefs,” Lee said.

But that’s not what my case has ever been about. This is about limited companies being somehow able to pick and choose which customers they will serve. It’s such a dangerous precedent.

Human rights solicitor Ciaran Moynagh, who is representing Lee, added: “We’re concerned the ruling in this case allows any company, its shareholders or owners to hold religious or political views and those views trump the rights of its customers.

“The supreme court ruling blurred the line, created legal uncertainty for all of us in Northern Ireland and the ECHR is the appropriate place to clarify this issue,” he said.

Unlike the rest of the UK, same-sex marriage has not been recognised in Northern Ireland throughout the time that the long-running legal battle has taken place.

This is set to change at the end of October when, if devolved government has still not returned to Stormont, Westminster will impose legislation that will make it legal.

There are no timelines set as to when the Lee’s fresh application will be processed by the ECHR or whether a hearing will occur.  

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Ceimin Burke

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