How far does The Equality Act protect against discrimination? In the recent ‘gay cake’ dispute in Northern Ireland, an Appeal Court upheld the decision that religious belief does not override the law against discrimination.
The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal has handed down its decision deciding on the question of whether religious beliefs overrides the law against discrimination in the supply of goods and services on grounds of sexual orientation.
The appeal was issued following the Court’s decision that Ashers Bakery, owned by Mr & Mrs McArthur cancelled an order to decorate a cake with a picture of Bert & Ernie and the caption 'Support Gay Marriage'. The McArthurs are devout Christians who believe that gay marriage is sinful. They had accepted they cancelled the order because of that belief.
The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal upheld the county court's decision. It held that the benefit from the slogan could only accrue to gay or bisexual people, and that the McArthurs would not have objected to decorating a cake saying 'Support Heterosexual Marriage'. The 'reason why' they cancelled the order was that the message related to gay marriage, and there was an exact correspondence between those of the particular sexual orientation and those whom the message supported the right to marry. This was a case of 'associative discrimination' with the gay and bisexual community, and amounted to direct discrimination.
The Court of Appeal held that the McArthurs' own right to free speech (i.e. objecting to gay marriage) was not being infringed.