A man has lost a seven-year legal battle against a Belfast bakery that refused to make him a cake emblazoned with the message “support gay marriage” as the European court of human rights ruled that his claim was inadmissible, prompting disappointment from gay rights groups.
On Thursday the ECHR, by a majority decision, said it would not reconsider the decision of the UK supreme court, which had overturned a £500 damages award imposed on Ashers bakery, which is run by evangelical Christians.
Ashers refused to produce the cake, featuring the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie, en 2014 for Gareth Lee, who was a supporter of the campaign to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. Same-sex marriage was legalised in Northern Ireland el año pasado.
Before the supreme court judgment in 2018, after its first hearing in Northern Ireland, a Belfast county court and a court of appeal had ruled that the company discriminated against Lee, who is gay, on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The ECHR said the claim was inadmissible because the applicant had not expressly invoked his rights under the European convention on human rights at any point in the domestic proceedings and had relied solely on domestic law.
Decía: “The supreme court found on the facts of the case that the applicant was not treated differently on account of his real or perceived sexual orientation, but rather that the refusal to supply the cake was because of the defendants’ religious objection to gay marriage.
“What was principally at issue, por lo tanto, was not the effect on the applicant’s private life or his freedom to hold or express his opinions or beliefs, but rather whether Ashers bakery was required to produce a cake expressing the applicant’s political support for gay marriage.”
Lee said he was frustrated that the Strasbourg court did not adjudicate on the “core issues” because of what he termed a “technicality”. Él dijo: “None of us should be expected to have to figure out the beliefs of a company’s owners before going into their shop or paying for their services.
“This case has put a spotlight on the challenges faced by LGBT+ in Irlanda del Norte. I will continue to support all law that protects and gives rights to all people equally.”
His solicitor, Ciaran Moynagh of Phoenix Law, also expressed disappointment at the decision, calling it a missed opportunity to address the substantive issues raised, and said they would consider whether to launch a fresh domestic challenge.
John O’Doherty, the director of the Rainbow Project, Northern Ireland’s foremost organisation for LGBTQ+ people, dicho: “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.”
Stonewall’s CEO, Nancy Kelley, said the ECHR’s decision was “a backwards step for equality. Derechos humanos belong to people, not businesses. No business should discriminate against their customers, and no discriminatory behaviour should be held up by equality law. Our thoughts are with Gareth Lee, who deserved more support from the European courts after seven years of working towards equality.”
The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), a Belfast-based human rights group, was one of several third-party intervenors in the case. Its deputy director, Daniel Holder, said the ECHR’S ruling on inadmissibility left individuals and organisations campaigning on gay rights “vulnerable to a commercial business refusing to provide services like printing posters, leaflets, setting up websites etc, through claiming an exemption to non-discrimination laws on the basis of ‘it’s not you it’s your message’.”
The ECHR said balancing the rights of Lee and those of the bakery owners, Daniel and Amy McArthur, was “a matter of great import and sensitivity to both LGBTIQ communities and to faith communities” , particularly in Northern Ireland.
Simon Calvert, a spokesperson for the Christian Institute, which backed the McArthurs, called the decision good news for free speech, agregando: “It protects gay business owners from being forced to promote views they don’t share, just as much as it protects Christian business owners.” Northern Ireland’s first minister, Paul Givan, said the case “should never have been brought to court in the first place”.