Gay Cakes and Discrimination
A recent decision of the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland has caused controversy. In it, a bakery cancelled an order to produce a cake which had been ordered with the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’. Same sex marriage is not currently recognised In Northern Ireland and the owners of the bakery were strict Christians who refused to fulfil the order on the basis that the slogan interfered with their religious beliefs.
The court held that refusal to supply the cake was discriminatory to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community. They found that the rights of the bakery owners to free speech by objecting to gay marriage would not be infringed by producing the cake as it was not reasonable to conclude that by being asked to ice the cake with the slogan they were expressing personal support for it, just as icing witches onto a Halloween cake would not mean that they supported witchcraft.
The court held that while they may refuse to provide a service that involved a religious or political message they were not permitted to provide a service that only reflected their own political or religious message in relation to sexual orientation.
The bakery have now indicated that they wish to appeal the case to the UK Supreme Court and if that is not permitted because of the complex rules governing appeals, the case may be taken to the European Court of Human Rights to determine.
Whilst this is not a case that is directly related to employment law, and is not legally binding at this stage as it originates from Northern Ireland courts, it serves as a useful reminder of the wide ranging nature of discrimination obligations and the need to provide a neutral working environment with support and dignity for all employees, clients and members of the public.