European court won’t hear long running ‘gay cake’ case

The European Court of Human Rights has refused to hear a case centered around an activist who wanted a baker to create a cake with a pro-marriage equality message.

The court said it could not hear the case brough by activist Gareth Lee because he had not yet exhausted all domestic remedies for dealing with the situation.

Back in 2014 Ashers Bakery refused to create a cake for Lee because it had a pro-same sex marriage message. The company said it would be happy to make a cake for anyone, but would not decorate the cake with a message that was at odd with their Christian values.

Lee had requested a cake with an image of Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie and the words ‘Support Gay Marriage’.

In 2016 a court found that the baker’s actions were discriminatory. However the ruling was overturned by Britain’s Supreme Court, who found the action did not qualify as discrimination.

Lee then took his case the the European Court of Human Rights which is based in France. That court has now published a ruling saying it will not hear the case.

“Because he had failed to exhaust domestic remedies, the application was inadmissible,” the Court of Human Rights said.

The Christian Institute, which backed the legal fight of the McArthur family who own the bakery chain, welcomed the court’s decision.

Institute spokesman Simon Calvert said the court’s decision was “the right result”.

“The UK Supreme Court engaged at length with the human rights arguments in this case and upheld the McArthurs’ rights to freedom of expression and religion. It was disappointing to see another attempt to undermine those rights, so it is a relief that the attempt has failed.

“I’m surprised anyone would want to overturn a ruling that protects gay business owners from being forced to promote views they don’t share, just as much as it protects Christian business owners.” Calvert said.

Belfast based LGBTIQA+ rights group The Rainbow Project said the decision was disappointing and left Britons with legal uncertainty.

“This case was taken against the UK government for its failure to protect Mr Lee from discrimination. The County Court and the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal confirmed the scope of anti-discrimination law in Northern Ireland.” said John O’Doherty, Director of The Rainbow Project.

“When a commercial business is providing services to the public, they cannot discriminate against their customers or clients on any grounds protected by equality law. The subsequent decision of the UK Supreme court created legal uncertainty, not just in Northern Ireland but, across the UK. Unfortunately, with today’s decision, that uncertainty will remain.”

“The Rainbow Project affirms our fundamental belief in freedom of religion for all people, however, this freedom cannot be extrapolated into privately owned business and used as a justification for discrimination. Fundamental human rights exist for people, not for for-profit businesses. We must ensure that there cannot be a permissive use of legislation by privately owned businesses, which allows for discrimination on the basis of any protected characteristics including race, sexual orientation, faith or political opinion.”

“While today’s decision brings this case to a close, there remains a number of questions around what protections exist for LGBTQIA+ people when accessing goods, facilities and services following the Supreme Court decision in October 2018.”

The scenario of bakers being compelled to decorate cakes for same-sex weddings was often highlighted as a concern by opponents of marriage equality during Australia’s long debate on same-sex marriage. There has however been little mention of the rights of Christian bakers and wedding cakes in the current debate of religious discrimination laws.

OIP Staff

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