A leading human rights campaigner recognised for his work supporting people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has said described the ‘gay cake’ ruling as a “victory”.
The Christian owners of NI bakery Ashers have won an appeal at the UK’s highest court over a finding that they discriminated against a customer by refusing to make a cake decorated with the words ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
Five Supreme Court justices allowed a challenge by the McArthur family in a unanimous ruling in London in what has become widely known as the ‘gay cake case’.
The legal action was originally brought against family-run Ashers bakery in Belfast by gay rights activist Gareth Lee, who won his case initially in the county court and then at the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal.
Peter Tatchell, who runs an organisation dedicated to human rights, said the Supreme Court ruling “means that gay bakers cannot be compelled by law to decorate cakes with anti-gay marriage slogans”.
Mr Tatchell said: “This verdict is a victory for freedom of expression.”
He added: “Businesses can now lawfully refuse a customer’s request to emblazon a political message if they have a conscientious objection to it. This includes the right to refuse messages that are sexist, xenophobic or anti-gay, which is a good thing.
“Although I profoundly disagree with Ashers opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be forced to facilitate a political idea that they oppose.
“The ruling does not permit anyone to discriminate against LGBT people. Such discrimination rightly remains unlawful.
“Ashers did not discriminate against the customer, Gareth Lee, because he was gay. They objected to the message he wanted on the cake: ‘Support gay marriage’.
“Discrimination against LGBT people is wrong. But in a free society, people should be able to discriminate against ideas that they disagree with. I am glad the court upheld this important liberal principle.”
Mr Tatchell said the implications of the original judgment, before the appeal was upheld yesterday morning, could have had “dangerous” consequences.
“If the original judgment against Ashers had been upheld it would have meant that a Muslim printer could be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed and a Jewish printer could be forced to publish a book that propagates Holocaust denial,” he said.
“It could have also encouraged far-right extremists to demand that bakers and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions.
“That would have set a dangerous, authoritarian precedent that could have been open to serious abuse.”