THE general manager of Ashers Baking, Daniel McArthur, has hailed the ruling in favour of his company as a victory for “freedom of speech and freedom of conscience for everyone”.
Speaking outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday, Mr McArthur said: “We’re delighted and relieved at today’s ruling. We always knew we hadn’t done anything wrong in turning down this order.
“After more than four years, the Supreme Court has now recognised that, and we’re very grateful — grateful to the judges, and especially grateful to God.
“The judges have given a clear signal today. In fact, it couldn’t be any clearer. Family businesses like ours are free to focus on giving all their customers the best service they can, without being forced to promote other people’s campaigns.”
Gareth Lee, the customer who first requested the cake and then took his case to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, said that it had made him feel like a “second-class citizen”.
He said: “To me, this was never about a campaign or a statement. All I wanted was to order a cake in a shop that sold cakes to order. I paid my money, my money was taken, and then, a few days later, it was refused. That made me feel like a second-class citizen.
“I’m concerned not just for the implications for myself and other gay people, but for every single one of us.”
Mr Lee said that after the defeat at the Supreme Court he would consider his options, which could include appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.
The ruling was welcomed by Evangelical groups. The director of Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland, Peter Lynas, described it as a “win for everyone”.
He said: “No one should be forced to say something that they disagree with. It is disappointing that this case has been pitched as Christians versus the LGBT community. This ruling affirms that this was never the case. The Ashers’ bakery have served Mr Lee in the past and continue to be willing to serve him again.
“Whilst no one should be discriminated against because of any protected characteristic, this judgment is clear that this is not what happened in this case.”
Dr Sharon James, a social-policy analyst for the Coalition for Marriage, called it “a great day for common sense and free speech. . . It is simply wrong for anyone to be forced to use their creative skills and expertise to endorse the campaign for same-sex marriage, or any other campaign which they strongly oppose.”
Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and former First Minister of Northern Ireland, said that it was a “seminal” decision. “This has been a long journey for everyone involved in the case. I commend Amy and Daniel McArthur for their grace and perseverance. This now provides clarity for people of all faiths and none.”
Dr Michael Ward-Low, theChief Commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which supported Mr Lee, said: “We are very disappointed. This judgment leaves a lack of clarity in equality law. Our understanding of certainty of the law has been overturned. The Supreme Court seems to see this as something that should be done on a case-by-case basis.”
John O’Doherty, the director of the Rainbow Project, Northern Ireland’s largest support organisation for LGBT people, said: “We believe this is direct discrimination for which there can be no justification. We will, however, take time to study this judgment by the Supreme Court to understand fully its implications for the rights of LGBT people to access goods, facilities, and services without discrimination.”
The gay-rights activist Peter Tatchell welcomed the ruling, however. “This verdict is a victory for freedom of expression,” he said in a statement. “As well as meaning that Ashers cannot be legally forced to aid the promotion of same-sex marriage, it also means that gay bakers cannot be compelled by law to decorate cakes with anti-gay marriage slogans.
“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.”
Read a full account of the case here