Dealing with Discrimination – The ‘Gay Cake’ Case

Posted on Nov 23, 2016

So, the ‘gay cake’ case (more formally known as Lee v Ashers Baking Company), has been back in the news this week as the bakers try to work out whether they can appeal to a higher court, and if so which one?

This is a tricky issue and involves a conflict between beliefs and anti-discrimination laws.

Just by way of reminder the owners of the Ashers Bakery who are devout Christians had refused to fulfil an order for a cake in support of gay marriage. Their belief was that gay marriage is sinful, and they openly accepted that they had cancelled the order because of that belief.

In October the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal refused to overturn the county court’s decision, which went against the bakers, stating that religious beliefs could not dictate the law. The Court did accept however that the Ashers had not refused to bake because Mr Lee was gay; it was what was on the cake that offended their beliefs.

Where does that leave the matter? In a pretty similar place as Brexit, in that the courts now have to look complex constitutional arguments about rights of appeal.

In an employment context, however, this clash of protected characteristics, particularly where action might have to be taken against an employee as a result, should be handled with extreme caution.