The Christian owners of a Northern Ireland bakery have won their appeal in the so-called “gay cake” discrimination case.
The UK’s highest court ruled that Ashers bakery’s refusal to make a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage was not discriminatory.
The five justices on the Supreme Court were unanimous in their judgement.
The high-profile dispute began in 2014 when the bakery refused to make a cake with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage”.
The customer, gay rights activist Gareth Lee, sued the company for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and political beliefs.
Ashers lost the case and the subsequent appeal, but on Wednesday the firm won its appeal at the Supreme Court.
The legal battle – which has lasted four-and-a-half years and has cost nearly £500,000 so far – has raised questions over equality and freedom of conscience.
‘Most expensive cake in UK history’
By Mark Simpson at the Supreme Court in London
Questions will now be asked as to whether the Equality Commission was right to spend more than £250,000 of public money on this case.
DUP Ian Paisley MP said he has written to the Northern Ireland Secretary calling for a review of the organisation’s funding.
The commission backed Mr Lee, who ordered the “gay cake” but was refused.
Four years later, the Supreme Court has ruled it was not a case of discrimination.
Ashers bakery has spent more £200,000 on the case. It is being paid by The Christian Institute, a charity and lobby group.
The cake at the centre of the dispute would have cost £36.50.
It has proved to be most expensive cake order in UK history.
Ashers bakery’s general manager Daniel McArthur said he was delighted and relieved by the ruling.
“I know a lot of people will be glad to hear this ruling today, because this ruling protects freedom of speech and freedom of conscience for everyone,” Mr McArthur said outside the court.
Mr Lee said the case had made him feel like a second-class citizen and that he was now now concerned about “the implications for all of the gay community”.
“To me, this was never about conscience or a statement. All I wanted to do was to order a cake in a shop,” he said.
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which has supported Gareth Lee’s action against Ashers, said it would study the implications of the judgement carefully.
“There is a concern that this judgement may raise uncertainty about the application of equality law in the commercial sphere, both about what businesses can do and what customers may expect,” said Dr Michael Wardlow, the organisation’s chief commissioner.
What is the row about?
Customer Gareth Lee requested a cake featuring the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie, iced with the message: “Support Gay Marriage.”
His order was initially accepted at a branch of Ashers in Belfast city centre, but two days later the baking firm’s head office contacted Mr Lee to say the firm would not make the cake.
Why did the bakers refuse?
The family-run baking company, based in County Antrim, has described the same-sex marriage slogan as “inconsistent” with its religious beliefs.