21 May 2015 #Employment
A county court in Northern Ireland has found in favour of a gay couple in a judgment this week in publicised Ashers Bakery case.
The bakery was sued following the manager's decision to cancel an order for a cake with an image and slogan in support of gay marriage. It argued that the cake and its slogan “Support Gay Marriage” (together with an image of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street) went against their “sincerely held” Christian beliefs.The customer, whose case was backed by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, complained that the bakery should not be permitted to refuse service on the grounds of sexual orientation. The bakery argued that it was not discriminating against the customer because of their sexuality but because of the message on the cake.
The court found the two directors of the bakery were guilty of direct discrimination for which there could be no justification, and breaches of regulation 5 of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 and Article 3 of the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 in their failure to provide goods and services to an individual on the grounds of their sexual orientation and political opinion.
The judge also confirmed that as the bakery was a purely commercial venture, the directors were not permitted to rely on the statutory exemption for organisations in relation to religious belief (pursuant to regulation 16) – highlighting that there was no reference to furthering religious values within the bakery's Memorandum and Articles of Association. The 'Gay Cake' row has prompted a proposal from UKIP to include a so called 'conscience clause' in equality legislation
This case highlights the continuing tensions in the UK between equality law and freedom of conscience for those whose religious beliefs do not allow them to accept same-sex marriage.