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Two cakes, two courts, two countries: Same result

Ashers Bakery owners Amy and Daniel McArthur outside the Supreme Court in London, on Oct. 10, 2018. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

LONDON (RNS) — On both sides of the Atlantic, a drama set in a bakery has  pitted freedom of religion against LGBT civil rights and Exhibit A has been a wedding cake — or as it’s been colloquially dubbed here, a gay cake.

This week it was the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom’s turn to decide a case, in which a Northern Ireland bakery refused to bake a cake and decorate it with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage. The result was the same as in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, decided in June, in which the  U.S. Supreme Court found for the baker.

The U.K. case began in 2014, when Ashers bakery, run by Daniel and Amy McArthur in Belfast, canceled an order to make a cake bearing the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” frosted on its top.  The customer, a gay rights activist named Gareth Lee, had also asked for characters from “Sesame Street” and the logo of the activist group Queerspace. The McArthurs said that they could not provide the cake Lee wanted, citing their Christian beliefs barring gay marriage.

The taxpayer-funded Equality Commission took up the case and wrote to the McArthurs seeking compensation, later taking them to court. Despite Northern Ireland’s reputation for religious conservatism — it is the only part of the United Kingdom where same-sex marriage is still not permitted — the county court and the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal ruled that there had been unlawful discrimination against Lee.

The bakers then took the case to the U.K.’s highest court, which heard the case in Northern Ireland. It was the first time Britain’s Supreme Court had sat for a case in Northern Ireland.

This week the court ruled in a unanimous decision that the McArthurs’ refusal to bake the cake was not discriminatory. “Their objection was to the message on the cake not to the personal characteristics of Mr. Lee,” said Lady Brenda Hale, president of the Supreme Court. “They would have refused to make such a cake for any customer, irrespective of their sexual orientation.”

Baker Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, manages his shop on June 4, 2018, in Lakewood, Colo. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that he could refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because his religious beliefs did not violate Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The U.K. case mirrors the U.S. gay cake incident, in which a baker’s refusal to decorate a cake with a gay wedding message also went all the way to the Supreme Court. In June, it ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had trampled the rights of Lakewood, Colo., baker Jack Phillips when it said his refusal to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple violated state accommodation laws.

In his opinion for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the Colorado commission’s decision “was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.”

The Trump administration argued that the case was a matter of artistic expression. Solicitor General Noel Francisco said that “an artist cannot be forced to paint, a musician cannot be forced to play, and a poet cannot be forced to write.”

In the U.K. case, the judges saw the question as neither about government neutrality nor about art. Instead the court based its opinion on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which includes the right “not to express an opinion which one does not hold.”

Christian activists gather outside of the Supreme Court in support of Colorado cake baker Jack Phillips on Dec. 5, 2017. RNS photo by Chris Mathews

Hale said, “The bakers could not refuse to supply their goods to Mr. Lee because he was a gay man or supported gay marriage, but that is quite different from obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed.”

The court’s distinction appeared to be aimed at treading a delicate path between upholding the right to freedom of religion and the individual right to dignity. 

The “gay cake” case has divided Britons, and not just Christians and pro-LGBT campaigners. Michael Wardlow, the head of Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission, which spent 250,000 pounds, or about $330,000, on the case and now has to pay legal costs, said the decision has introduced uncertainty about the legal basis for equality in the U.K. The Rainbow Project, Northern Ireland’s main gay rights organization, issued a statement calling the decision “direct discrimination” and said it had implications for services and facilities for LGBT people.

But in an article for The Times, one of Britain’s best-known gay activists, Peter Tatchell, welcomed the ruling and supported the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law.

“If the Supreme Court had ruled against Ashers it would have established a dangerous principle that businesses cannot refuse a customer’s request to propagate a message even if it is sexist, anti-gay or xenophobic, and even if they have a conscientious objection to it,” he wrote. “In a democracy people should be able to discriminate against ideas with which they disagree.”

The McArthurs, who were backed by the Christian Institute, a charity set up to counter secularism, saw the making of a cake as fundamental to their faith.

Outside the Supreme Court, Daniel McArthur said: “I want to start by thanking God. He has been with us for the last four years.”

About the author

Catherine Pepinster

70 Comments

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  • UK Supreme Court seems to be making a habit of arriving at decent, rational and sensible decisions.

  • The title misrepresents the two cases as having been the same and decided the same. They weren’t. Both cases did involve bakers refusing to make cakes for a gay couple and in both cases the courts found in favor of the bakers. However, they were actually very different cases, argued in different manners, with decisions based on totally different criteria.

    The US case yes, was decided in favor of the baker, but not on the merits of his case. The USSC decided in the bakers favor because of bias the court was led to believe had occurred during the State of Colorado’s consideration of the case. This did not set a precedent for LGBTQ discrimination cases in the US. It remanded the case back to Colorado.

    The UK case was decided by the UKSC walking a very fine line between religious freedom and individual dignity. The court ruled that the baker could refuse to create a cake with a message to which the baker objected. In this case it was a message in support of marriage equality. Had the baker simply refused to bake a wedding cake for two men because they were gay, the decision may well have been against the baker.

  • The most interesting comment actually came from Peter Tatchell, a well known gay activist, who welcomed the ruling and supported the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law.

    “If the Supreme Court had ruled against Ashers it would have established a dangerous principle that businesses cannot refuse a customer’s request to propagate a message even if it is sexist, anti-gay or xenophobic, and even if they have a conscientious objection to it,” he wrote. “In a democracy people should be able to discriminate against ideas with which they disagree.”

  • There is no doubt humanity is back at the Crossroad. The lgbt has taken the world full circle back 2000 years rhetorically, making lawlessness and chicanery the norm. The global war against God is racheting up and it is called Armageddon. Yes, there are wars and rumors of war in this time because it is the time of Armageddon. It is he time God sends fishers, to hunt the fishers of men.

  • As it should be. As you say, if one refused a service to another because of their sexual preference, that would be inappropriate. But no one should be forced to provide a service that supports “behavior” such as messaging they do not agree with.

  • “The global war against God is racheting [sic] up and it is called Armageddon.”

    Correction . . .

    The global war against God GOD (the Grand Old Delusion) is ratcheting up and it is called Armageddon Awakening to reality through rational thinking utilizing reason, evidence, and logic.

  • Armageddon is an awakening, a step in an irreversible process, the reality that God is among us and the Scripture is alive and active. Any rational and reasonable individual can see this. Logically, anyone can see that Jonah was not swallowed by a whale, he was sent forward in time to prophesize about this time in history.

    The grand old delusion of Satan is coming to an end because it is a new day of enlightenment. Read your Bible again, and weep.

  • In his outright dismissal of Fox News’s trademark infringement case against Al Franken for “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right,” the judge said something along the lines of “There are easy cases, and there are hard cases, and this is an easy case.” From an American perspective, the UK case was very easy. Contrary to the article, there was no similarity with the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, other than both involving a “gay cake” and even that isn’t completely accurate. Actually similar cases to the Ashers case have been decided in the US with little difficulty. Shortly after the Masterpiece case broke the news, an antigay activist went to a bakery in Colorado and asked for a Bible-shaped cake, with a decoration consisting of two men, a large red X over the men, and the quote, “Homosexuality is a detestable sin, Lev. 18:22.” The baker refused and the commission ruled in her favor, holding that it was the message that was the basis for the denial.

  • Because you just answered His call to read it again. Everyone deserves a second or third chance.

  • Both cases were decided in a very ridiculous fashion. The bakers claims in both cases was dishonest nonsense. The whole point of the refusals in those instances was simply discrimination against the customers for being gay.

    Which is exactly why you and every Bible Thumper supported such actions. It has nothing to do with speech or the messages involved. It has to do with treating gay people as social equals when it comes to commerce. No different than if the bakers refused to bake a cake for interracial or interfaith couples on the same grounds.

    People selling goods and services in open commerce must be forced to treat all customers with a bare minimum level of courtesy and not discriminate against them. Without the penalty of law for discriminatory behavior, it simply enables it and excuses for it. Essentially a demand for legalized segregation in the marketplace.

  • ALL LGTBQ sexual behavior is sinful and an abomination before God. Read Leviticus 18:22 for starters.

  • Guys, you’re arguing with a guy who posts these same sorts of End Times delusions here every chance he gets. Don’t feed the troll.

  • Neither case was decided in a very ridiculous, or just ridiculous, fashion.

    To suggest that “The bakers claims in both cases was dishonest nonsense.” is to argue that you, and you alone, have the power to read men’s souls and that the law means nothing.

    The American case ended because the State of Colorado knowingly staffed its Civil Rights Commission with loud anti-religious bigots who pissed in the case so thoroughly that nothing Colorado did from that point forward could salvage it.

    The Northern Ireland case concluded as it did because people have a right to beliefs and to conduct their affairs in accord with them.

    Your use of “Bible Thumper” makes your bigotry stand out in bas-relief.

    If “(p)eople selling goods and services in open commerce must be forced to treat all customers with a bare minimum level of courtesy and not discriminate against them”, a statement by the seller that it is happy to sell any product that does not promote the objected-to message.

    And that took place in both the American and Northern Ireland cases.

  • The Colorado Civil Rights Commission has been reconstituted with a view towards unbiased decisions.

  • By “behavior” do you mean physical behavior alone, or are you also including mental behavior?

  • Once again Christopher Hitchens is proved a prophet. Where would either of these cases be without religion declaring one group of people being more or less human than another? In both cases you have hate hiding behind the skirts of faith.

  • I’ll be waiting for the day when the hyper conservative so-called Christian response to gay people and our participation in society has the slightest thing to do it’s reason.

  • “For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he…” Proverbs 23:7 We can block out thoughts that are sinful, disgusting and permit positive, good thoughts to enter. Shalom

  • So, the mere fact that those thoughts appear in one’s mind—that in itself is not sinful behavior?

  • No, because evil or bad thoughts are placed in the mind by the enemy of man, but in the very moment we perceive of such a thought entering, we can actually say “get out, go away, get thee behind me…” We fail when we dwell on the thought and let it stay in the mind. Satan, the enemy of man, has no power over us unless we give it to him.

  • 12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1

  • Take “In God We Trust” off the US currency, then. I shouldn’t have to propagate a message that I don’t agree with.

  • “people have a right to beliefs and to conduct their affairs in accord with them”

    Unless they’re gay, according to you.

  • LGBTQ+ rights are human rights. Sucks for you that you hate rainbows so much. Take it up with the rain, why don’t you?

  • What a joke. LGBTQ+ people have to worry about getting lynched by Christians, not the other way around.

  • You keep blaming him for all your “evil thoughts”, because you hate taking responsibility for your own life.

  • People have no right to harm others in accordance with their beliefs. Unless Christian Fundamentalists. Then Bob claims they can break any law as long as they claim Jesus approves.

  • Ireland is not part of the UK (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). Ireland has it’s own legal structures. And, from memory, the Irish Constitution was amended with regard to abortion by referendum rather than action in a court.

    Like protecting a dying and terribly damaged child from extended machinery-dependant “life” and insisting that all couples (straight or gay) be entitled to the same partnership choices.

  • Maybe Madame Spuddini can give you a past life reading while she’s at it. LOL!

    Silly lefties, always purporting to read everyone’s minds because they can’t deal with facts actually in issue.

  • Please pay attention. The ONLY thing the Lord, myself, and ALL decent and good people HATE is immoral sexual behavior. This refers to all sexual behavior outside of a legal and lawful marriage between a man and a woman. UNLIKE Hitler, we do NOT hate anyone, just immoral behavior because unchecked, it can destroy a society…FYI

  • Read my post above, again. I take responsibility for my life by rejecting all evil, bad, or negative thoughts. This allows me to only have good, clean, positive, NON-JUDGMENTAL thoughts in my mind, which translate to positive actions and happiness. TRY IT, CHARLOTTE

  • “Homophobia” is a word invented by homosexuals to label those who reject sexual behavior outside of a legal and lawful marriage between a man and a woman. We are “One Nation, under God” and all good citizens embrace morality, which is a source of strength for America.

  • Homophobia is immoral. Homophobes like you go around lynching people, because you don’t like the fact that they have more interesting sex lives than you.

    Lynching is illegal, FYI.

  • Homophobia is neither good, nor clean, nor positive, nor non-judgmental. Get your homophobia out of my democracy.

  • Homophobia can destroy society. You do know that straight people have sex before marriage, right?

  • You have no proof that homophobia can destroy a society. Straight DECENT people may accidentally have sex before marriage, but only when they are totally committed to marry each other.

  • It is clear that you have no moral decency and only want to argue. I can’t waste my time with you.

  • HOMOSEXUAL SEXUAL RELATIONS are neither good, nor clean, nor positive, nor non-judgmental. Get your filthy
    LGBTQ sexual behavior out of GOD’s country, NOW. Maybe you should read Revelations 17:5…you are sounding like the “Mother of harlots and abominations” mentioned there. Then read 22: 20-21. GOD bless America!!

  • Ahem, there’s this thing called the 1st Amendment. Get your bigotry out of my bedroom, creep. Too bad for you that you don’t have a sex life of your own to worry about, so you resort to lynching people for attention.

  • Jesus says “neither cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn again and rend you..” Matt 7:6 You are swine, Charlotte, so I have to stop responding to you and all those like you.

  • Homophobes are swine. There is no place for your bigotry in government, education, or healthcare. Hitler hated gays, too, FYI.

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