Bakery in 'gay cake' row guilty of discrimination
The Christian-owned Ashers Baking Company which refused to make a cake carrying a pro gay marriage slogan has been found guilty of discrimination after a landmark legal action at Belfast County Court.
The Northern Ireland Equality Commission brought the case against Ashers Baking Company on behalf of Gareth Lee, the gay rights activist whose order was declined.
Giving her ruling at Belfast County Court today district judge Isobel Brownlie said: "The defendants have unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff on grounds of sexual discrimination.
"This is direct discrimination for which there can be no justification."
Mr Lee, a member of the LGBT advocacy group Queer Space, had wanted a cake featuring Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie with the slogan Support Gay Marriage for a private function marking International Anti Homophobia Day.
The high profile legal case, which divided public opinion in Belfast and beyond, was heard over three days in March.
Judge Brownlie said she was satisfied the McArthur family had "genuine and deeply held religious beliefs" but said they must have been aware that Mr Lee was gay and were aware of the ongoing same sex marriage debate.
The judge added: "They must have known or had the perception that the plaintiff was gay.
"They must have known that the plaintiff supported gay marriage or associated with others who supported gay marriage."
He paid in full when he placed the order at Ashers' Belfast branch but said he was left stunned two days later, when the company phoned to say it could not be processed.
Giving evidence, Mr Lee claimed he was left feeling like a lesser person.
Judge Brownlie said: "They (Ashers) are in a business supplying services to all. The law requires them to do just that."
The courtroom in Belfast's Laganside complex was packed as the reserved judgement was delivered.
Ashers general manager Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy sat in the body of the court supported by other family members. The couple smiled as the lengthy ruling was read out in full.
Mr Lee sat on the other side of the dock.
Among the Christian supporters was former Stormont health minister Edwin Poots and DUP Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan, who is seeking to introduce a 'conscience clause' into equality legislation.