Ashers Bakery found guilty of discrimination in ‘gay cake’ row

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A bakery which refused to provide a pro-same-sex marriage cake has been found guilty of discrimination.

Last July, Ashers Baking Company – based in Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland – refused the request of gay rights activist Gareth Lee for a cake showing the message ‘Support Gay Marriage’ above an image of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie.

The bakery vowed to “make a stand” after it was found to have broken anti-discrimination laws, and the Equality Commission took the company to court after the bakery rejected a legal settlement.

Bakery owner Daniel McArthur spoke to protesters outside the 2,200-capacity Waterfront Hall in Belfast earlier this week, some of who were unable to get seats inside, and vowed to fight on.

District Judge Isobel Brownlie had reserved her judgement following three days of evidence at Belfast County Court in March, and today ruled that the bakery was guilty of unlawful discrimination based both on sexual orientation and political or religious grounds.

Ahead of handing down her ruling, Judge Brownlie said she intended to read it out in full, and that it would take some time.

She said “The defendants are Christians & regular church goers. They said they seek to live at all times in accordance with the doctrines of Bible”, and that they “hold genuine deeply held religious beliefs”.

Going on, she said: “The defendants are not a religious organisation. They conduct a business for profit,” and said she thought the bakery knew that Mr Lee was gay.

Handing down the ruling, Judge Brownlie said: “This is direct discrimination for which there is no justification”.

The Press Association was forced to issue a correction after prematurely releasing that the bakery had been found not guilty.

Former Northern Irish Health Minister Edwin Poots was in the public gallery for the outcome of the case.

McArthur said before the ruling that it had been a difficult time for his family.

First Minister Peter Robinson earlier this year lambasted the Equality Commission for spending funds to pursue the case.

In response to the row, the Democratic Unionist Party has introduced a bill that would exempt religious people from equality laws.