Gay cake case is INADMISSIBLE: European court throws out complaint by gay activist that he was discriminated against by Christian bakery owners who refused to make a £36 cake with ‘Support Gay Marriage’ slogan

  • Supreme Court ruled that Gareth Lee was not discriminated against in cake row
  • Mr Lee had ordered a £36.50 cake iced with the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’
  • Owners of Ashers bakery in Belfast objected to the message on the cake 
  • Supreme Court found that Me Lee had not been discriminated against
  • Mr Lee then referred the case to the European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that a discrimination complaint by a gay rights activist after a Christian bakery refused to make him a cake is inadmissible. 

The high-profile controversy first flared when Gareth Lee ordered a £36.50 cake from Ashers bakery in Belfast in May 2014. 

The cake, commissioned for a private function marking International Day Against Homophobia, featured Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie and was to be iced with the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’.

His order was accepted and he paid in full, but, two days later, the Christian owners of the company, Daniel and Amy McArthur, called to say it could not proceed due to the message requested.

Mr Lee, a member of the LGBT advocacy group QueerSpace, then launched the legal case, supported by Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission, alleging discrimination on the grounds of his sexuality. 

The case was fought in several courts, eventually in 2018 reaching the UK Supreme Court, which ruled that Mr Lee was not discriminated against when Ashers bakery refused to make him a cake with the slogan supporting gay marriage.

Mr Lee then referred the case to the ECHR, claiming that the Supreme Court failed to give appropriate weight to him under the European Convention of Human Rights.

But the ECHR in Strasbourg today ruled that the case was ‘inadmissible’, finding that Mr Lee had failed to ‘exhaust domestic remedies’ in the case, and he had not ‘invoked his Convention rights at any point in the domestic proceedings’.   

In its ruling, the court said: ‘Convention arguments must be raised explicitly or in substance before the domestic authorities.’

‘By relying solely on domestic law, the applicant had deprived the domestic courts of the opportunity to address any Convention issues raised, instead asking the court to usurp the role of the domestic courts.

‘Because he had failed to exhaust domestic remedies, the application was inadmissible.’

Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy, the owners of Ashers bakery, pictured in 2018

The Belfast bakers refused to make a cake decorated with the words ‘Support Gay Marriage’ (pictured: A cake with a similar design, made by another bakery) 

Mr Lee had previously won hearings at the county court and the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal in 2015 and 2016, but the owners of Ashers – backed by the Christian Institute – challenged those rulings at the Supreme Court. 

In 2018 five justices unanimously ruled that they had not discriminated against the customer. The Supreme Court’s then president, Lady Hale, said that the bakers did not refuse to fulfil the order because of the customer’s sexual orientation, but because they objected to ‘the message on the cake’.

Mr Lee then referred the case to the ECHR, claiming that the Supreme Court failed to give appropriate weight to him under the European Convention of Human Rights. 

He claims that his rights were interfered with by the decision of the UK’s highest court to dismiss his claim for breach of statutory duty to provide services, and the interference was not proportionate.

In a previous hearing, the UK Supreme Court’s then president, Lady Hale, said the McArthur family hold the religious belief that ‘the only form of marriage consistent with the Bible and acceptable to God is between a man and a woman’.

She said: ‘As to Mr Lee’s claim based on sexual discrimination, the bakers did not refuse to fulfil his order because of his sexual orientation.

‘They would have refused to make such a cake for any customer, irrespective of their sexual orientation.

‘Their objection was to the message on the cake, not to the personal characteristics of Mr Lee or of anyone else with whom he was associated.’

Mr Lee said at the time that the refusal to make the cake made him feel like a ‘second-class citizen’.

The McArthurs said they did not turn down this order because of the person who made it, but because of the message requested on the cake.

The ECHR is set to deliver a written ruling on Thursday.

In the original court case, District Judge Isobel Brownlie ruled that religious beliefs could not dictate the law and ordered the firm to pay damages of £500. 

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