One of the more unique discrimination cases in recent years has finally come to a definitive conclusion follow the ruling of the Supreme Court the case of in Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd and Others.
Ashers Baking Company is a family-owned business with strong Christian beliefs, particularly with regards gay marriage. Mr Lee asked them to bake a cake with a photo of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street and the wording 'Support Gay Marriage'. They declined to bake it due to their religious beliefs and Mr Lee brought a discrimination claim through the Northern Irish courts. The court therefore had to decide whether Mr Lee had been directly discriminated against due to his sexual orientation by the bakers’ refusal to bake a cake.
The case succeeded at first instance and before the Northern Irish Court of Appeal. The ruling by the Supreme Court therefore provides good guidance. The court ruled that as the refusal to bake the cake was not because of Mr Lee's sexual orientation: that was irrelevant to their decision and the decision not to bake the cake was not direct discrimination in the ordinary sense.
The Supreme Court was also not satisfied that this was associative direct discrimination, as a result of Mr Lee’s likely to associate with the gay community. For associative discrimination to succeed there needed to be an association with particular persons and discrimination due to that association. That was absent in this case. That the message had something to do with sexual orientation of some people was not sufficient to make out the claim.
When considering their decision the Court relied heavily on the rights relating to religion and expression under Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Those rights include an entitlement not to be forced to express a political opinion in which you do not believe. Infringement of those rights could not be justified by an obligation to supply a cake iced with a message with which the bakers profoundly disagreed.
As motor traders we are unlikely to be selling many cakes. However, this case does set important principles that will apply in claims of discrimination going forwards