DUBLIN (AP) – A Northern Ireland bakery was found guilty May 19 of discrimination for refusing to bake a cake bearing the slogan “Support Gay Marriage,” a verdict welcomed by human rights activists but denounced by Christian fundamentalists in the British territory.
In her ruling, Belfast Judge Isobel Brownlie called the bakery’s cancellation of the order “direct discrimination for which there can be no justification.” The judge said the bakery was a business, not a religious organization, and therefore had no legal basis to reject an order based on a customer’s sexual orientation or beliefs.
She said the bakers knew the customer, Gareth Lee, was gay and would have provided him a cake bearing a message that supported traditional heterosexual marriage.
“I have no doubt that such a cake would have been provided. It is the word ‘gay’ that the defendants took exception to,” Brownlie told the packed courtroom as Lee and owners of the family-run Ashers Bakery listened.
The judge ordered Ashers Bakery to pay Lee 500 pounds ($775) and legal costs, which have run into the tens of thousands.
Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission pursued the lawsuit on behalf of Lee, who had ordered the cake for a gay rights event. Same-sex marriages were legalized last year in the rest of the United Kingdom but remain unrecognized in socially conservative Northern Ireland.
Ashers Bakery initially accepted Lee’s order but called him two days later to cancel it, citing the bakery owners’ evangelical Christian beliefs. Lee had wanted the cake to depict “Sesame Street” characters Bert and Ernie alongside the pro-gay marriage slogan.
Opinion polls indicate majority opposition to gay marriage in Northern Ireland. In March, thousands rallied in support of Ashers Bakery.