Have Your Cake and Eat It

The long running case of Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd [2018] IRLR 116 has attracted a great deal of publicity during the last couple of years and it finally reached the Supreme Court at the end of 2019. This is the case in which a gay man asked a baker in Belfast to decorate a cake with the message, “Support Gay Marriage”. The baker refused to provide a cake bearing that message for religious reasons, and the man later brought a claim of sexual orientation discrimination. The refusal to provide the cake was held to be direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation at first instance but the Supreme Court overturned that decision and found in favour of the Company.

Lady Hale, in her decision, held that the key point was that the baker would also have refused to supply a cake with the same message to a heterosexual customer and therefore the therefore the refusal to provide the cake was not “on the grounds” of the customer’s sexuality. She said, “The objection was to the message, not the messenger”. The Supreme Court did not accept the argument of the claimant that his support for gay marriage was inseparable, or “indissociable”, from his sexual orientation.

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