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Cake, the Law and LGBTQ rights?



For the greater part of human history, gay rights were an offense punishable by death due largely to the sway religion has held over society which has allowed it to exert significant influence over the formulation of the laws that govern us today. The law in the majority of countries also empowers the individual with the right of freedom to practice any religion they wish. Inevitably, conflicts arise when certain principles of these religions that were formulated thousands of years ago, are deemed to be antiquated and discriminatory in a world that increasingly prides itself on libertarian principles. With society growing more liberal, more and more compromises have had to be made between religious beliefs and societal attitudes.


In the United Kingdom, the legalization of same sex marriage was made official in 2013 in the controversial Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. This divisive piece of legislation clashed with the popular Christian belief that marriage should only be between heterosexual couples and the equal rights it bestowed upon same-sex couples.

This clash eventually culminated in the case of Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd in 2018. Over the course of four years, the £36.50 cake order escalated into a significant legal battle between the LGBTQ community and Christian groups that ended up in the UK Supreme Court, costing over £450,000. An Irish bakery, Ashers, had refused to supply a cake iced with the message “support gay marriage” and the Queer space logo to Mr. Lee, a gay man. While the Irish courts ruled in Mr. Lee's favor on the grounds of discrimination of sexual orientation, the Supreme Court thought otherwise.


The outcome there was decided in favor of Ashers Baking company as the UK supreme court held that the anti-discriminatory laws in Ireland could not be interpreted as to compel providers of goods and services to engage in an act promoting an ideal they fundamentally disagree with. The Ashers were able to provide substantially compelling evidence that no discrimination had been previously committed against any LGBTQ staff or customers. More importantly, their ability to establish that even had the cake been requested by a heterosexual man it would have been refused was what won them the case.


The Supreme Court's overarching justification was that since Ashers bakery would have refused to supply the cake the plaintiff had ordered, even if he had not been a gay man. As the bakery would have refused to supply the cake to anyone regardless of their sexual orientation, beliefs personal characteristics, it was decided in a 7-2 split that there was no discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. The court agreed that there was possible discrimination on the basis of political opinion but that this was not in any way justification for compelling the speech of the bakery owners.


The court also found that under the provision of articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Ashers were well within their means to refuse to accept an order for a cake frosted with a message that they principally disagreed with. This applied regardless of the message in question was and the fact, that manufacturing the cake could not really be construed as in any way promoting or supporting the cause. At the end of the day the "Gay cake case" as it is popularly referred to, was really about upholding freedom of expression rather than a clash between religious and liberal values.


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