The Christian owners of an Irish bakery who were found guilty of discrimination and fined £500 last year over their refusal to bake a pro-gay marriage cake because it would have violated their religious beliefs lost their appeal on Monday.
A three-judge appeals court in Belfast upheld a lower court’s ruling that Daniel and Amy McArthur, the owners of Ashers Bakery in Belfast, were guilty of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and asserted that despite the family’s religious beliefs, businesses are not allowed to refuse services that they willingly offer to the public when certain messages contradict with their deeply-held convictions.
“Thus the supplier may provide the particular service to all or to none but not to a selection of customers based on prohibited grounds. In the present case the appellants might elect not to provide a service that involves any religious or political message,” the court wrote in its ruling. “What they may not do is provide a service that only reflects their own political or religious message in relation to sexual orientation.”
The McArthur’s troubles started when gay activist Gareth Lee took them to court in 2014 after they refused to make a cake featuring “Sesame Street” characters Bert and Ernie with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” scrawled on the top.
The Belfast County Court ruled that the bakery discriminated against Lee based on sexual orientation and were issued a small fine that is about the equivalent of over $600.
The family filed an appeal in May of this year.
Although the appeals court accepted the family’s defense that that they did not discriminate against Lee because of his sexuality but rather because of the content of the message, the court still didn’t find that to be a valid excuse.
“The benefit from the message or slogan on the cake could only accrue to gay or bisexual people,” the court explained. “The appellants would not have objected to a cake carrying the message ‘Support Heterosexual Marriage’ or indeed ‘Support Marriage.'”
“We accept that it was the use of the word ‘Gay’ in the context of the message which prevented the order from being fulfilled,” the court asserted in the ruling. “The reason that the order was cancelled was that the appellants would not provide a cake with a message supporting a right to marry for those of a particular sexual orientation. This was a case of association with the gay and bisexual community and the protected personal characteristic was the sexual orientation of that community. Accordingly, this was direct discrimination.”
After the ruling, Daniel McArthur told media outlets that if the law leads to the punishment of those who politely refuse to support political causes that they don’t agree with, than law “needs to change.”
“This ruling undermines democratic freedom, undermines religious freedom and undermines freedom of speech,” McArthur asserted. “We have served Mr. Lee before and would be happy to serve him again. The judges accepted that we did not know that Mr. Lee was gay and that he was not the reason we declined the order. It was never about the customer. It was about the message and the court accepted that today.”
“Now, we are being told that we have to promote the message even if it is against our conscience,” McArthur continued. “What we refused to do was refused to be involved in promoting a political campaign to change marriage law in Northern Ireland. Because we are Christians, we support the current law and we felt that making this cake would make us responsible for its message.”
The ruling in Northern Ireland comes after a similar case was brought before the Colorado Civil Rights Division last year. A complaint was filed against Azucar Bakery in Denver after a customer requested that they make him two cakes in the shape of an open Bible with the words “God hates sin — Psalm 45:7” and “Homosexuality is a detestable sin — Leviticus 18:22.” The bakery refused to make the cake. The operator of the bakery later claimed that she was asked to make a cake that stated “God hates gays.”
The civil rights division ruled last April that the bakery did not discriminate against the customer because it declined to support the message of the cakes.
“The evidence demonstrates that [Silva, who supports gay marriage,] would deny such requests to any customer, regardless of creed,” the civil rights agency’s decision stated.