Ashers Bakery Company have been found guilty of discrimination, after refusing to print a gay marriage slogan on a cake at their store in Belfast. This morning, District Judge Isobel Brownlie ruled that the defendants have unlawfully discriminated on the grounds of sexual orientation, saying "This is direct discrimination for which there is no justification."
Ashers Baking Company had been taken to court by gay rights activist Gareth Lee over their refusal to make him a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan printed on it. The bakery's owners - husband and wife Daniel and Amy McArthur - said making the cake would go against their strong Christian beliefs, and refused Mr Lee service.
Original story: Belfast bakery refuses to bake gay cake
Mr Lee took the company to court with the support of Northern Ireland's Equality Commission, claiming he had been discriminated against for being gay, though the McArthurs claim they did not know that he was gay, and the act was not one of personal discrimination. Mr Lee ordered a cake with the slogan 'Support Gay Marriage', with a picture of Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie, in May 2014.
The judge said the McArthurs hold "genuine deeply held religious beliefs" but that government regulations "protect people from having their sexual orientation used for having their business turned down." She went on to say that "The defendants are not a religious organisation. They conduct a business for profit. There are no exceptions available."
The judge acknowledged that Ashers did have the knowledge that the plaintiff was gay, and that he was discriminated against on the grounds of his sexuality. She added, "As much as I acknowledge their religious beliefs, this is a business to provide service to all. The law says they must do that."
The judge also pointed out that, "Sexual orientation is a highly protected right under European Convention of Human Rights as is religion". The McArthurs now must pay £500 compensation to Gareth Lee.
The court case lasted for three days in March, and the judge has been considering a decision since then. Leading members of the DUP, Paul Givan and Edwin Poots, who have supported Ashers, were in court to hear the judgement today.