A customer whose request for a cake supporting gay marriage was refused is taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
The incident has already prompted a string of legal battles, most recently in the Supreme Court, which last year ruled Belfast-based Ashers Baking Company did not discriminate against gay rights activist Gareth Lee.
Ashers, which is run by owners with Christian beliefs, refused to make a cake showing Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie alongside the motto ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
The business was originally found guilty of discrimination, and also later lost an appeal against the decision, but the Supreme Court upheld Ashers’ appeal against claims of discrimination last October. The court found the bakery did not refuse to fulfil the order because of Lee’s sexual orientation, but because it objected to the message on the cake.
However, the case is now heading for the European Court of Human Rights after Lee instructed Belfast law firm Phoenix Law.
This time, the case is not against Ashers, but against the United Kingdom itself, with lawyers set to argue that the Supreme Court failed to give appropriate weight to Lee’s rights under the European Convention of Human Rights.
Phoenix plans to challenge the idea that a business can have religious beliefs, arguing that its owners may, but businesses, brands and companies are separate from their owners and their personal and private views.
“I’d fight for the rights of business owners to be able to hold their own religious beliefs, I have my own beliefs,” said Lee. “But that’s not what my case has ever been about. This is about limited companies being somehow able to pick and choose which customers they will serve. It’s such a dangerous precedent.”
Human rights solicitor Ciaran Moynagh, who will act for Lee, said he was concerned that the Supreme Court ruling allowed any company, its shareholders or owners to hold religious or political views and those views trumped the rights of its customers.
The Christian Institute, which supported Ashers throughout its court cases, said it was surprised anyone would want to overturn the Supreme Court ruling, adding that it protected gay business owners from being forced to promote views they don’t share, just as much as it protected Christian business owners.
“The judgment in favour of Ashers was welcomed by lawyers and commentators from across the spectrum because it protects people of all views,” said The Christian Institute deputy director Simon Calvert.
“Judges at the UK’s highest court could not have been clearer in their decision: Ashers’ objection to the cake was to the message, not Gareth Lee himself.”