In a case that has garnered a lot of attention in the press and social media, the County Court in Northern Ireland has ruled that a bakery’s refusal to bake a cake for a customer amounted to direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The customer in question was homosexual and he wanted the cake to say “Support Gay Marriage”. The bakery refused to provide him with the cake.
The bakery tried to argue they hadn’t discriminated against the customer because they would have refused to accept this cake order, no matter who had placed it; whether the customer was homosexual or not was irrelevant. However, the Court said that this was not using the correct comparator; instead the Court ruled that the correct comparator was a heterosexual customer requiring a cake saying “Support Heterosexual Marriage”. The judge found that the bakery would not have refused this order and therefore they had discriminated against the customer as a result of his sexual orientation.
The bakery also tried to argue that they were a Christian–based organisation and therefore they couldn’t be liable under the discrimination provisions. The Court ruled that although the two directors were Christian, the bakery was a business and couldn’t use this exemption. The bakery was therefore found to have directly discriminated against the customer on the grounds of his sexual orientation.
This is a Northern Irish case, but the provisions are similar in England and Wales (and the Judge referred to a UK Supreme Court decision when reaching his verdict; as such, this is relevant to businesses in England and Wales, who may face similar issues. In addition, it highlights issues that sometimes crop up where there are tensions between the different strands of anti-discrimination legislation.