The European Court of Human Rights this week denied an appeal brought against the owners of a bakery in Northern Ireland who refused to bake a cake with a message supporting same-sex marriage. The seven-judge panel rejected the case because it felt that the plaintiff had not exhausted the possibilities of appeal in the UK court.
The legal dispute began in 2014 when Gareth Lee, a Belfast resident linked to QueerSpace, an organization for Northern Ireland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, ordered a cake for an activist event following the Northern Irish regional assembly. reject for the third time the legalization of same-sex marriage (the change would be implemented in the country only in 2020).
The order, made at Ashers Bakery, stipulated that the cake must have an image of Bert and Ernie, characters from the children’s television show “Sesame Street”, the QueerSpace logo and the message “Support gay marriage”.
According to court reports, the next day those in charge of the bakery called Lee and informed him that they would not make the cake because they ran a “Christian enterprise.” They apologized and returned the money.
Lee then filed a lawsuit against Ashers, alleging breach of legal duty to provide goods, facilities and services. The bakery’s administrators claimed in the lawsuit the rights provided for in articles 9 (on freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The local court and an appeals court found Lee right, but the UK Supreme Court overturned the rulings, finding that the bakery’s owners didn’t refuse to bake the cake because the plaintiff is gay, but because they opposed it. to be forced to promote a message with which they deeply disagreed.
Lee appealed in April 2019 to the European Court of Human Rights, which this week found that the applicant had not invoked his rights under the European Convention at any point in the proceedings in the United Kingdom. Thus, the demand was denied.
In a statement released after the ruling, Lee lamented the fact that the “core issues” of the case were not analyzed and adjudicated “out of a technicality.”
“No one of us is expected to have to know the beliefs of a business owner before walking into a store or paying for services,” he said. “This case has highlighted the challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ people in Northern Ireland. I will continue to support all laws that protect and grant rights to all people equally.”
On the other hand, the European Court’s decision was praised by the Evangelical Alliance, a Christian organization that supported Ashers during the process.
“This case was about freedom of conscience, expression and belief, and whether someone can be compelled to create a message that they deeply disagree with,” director Peter Lynas told the BBC. “This decision protects everyone against forced speech.”
In 2018, the United States Supreme Court acquitted Colorado-based pastry artist Jack Phillips of the felony discrimination charge for refusing to create a custom cake for a same-sex wedding. Last year, Phillips was also sentenced to pay a fine for refusing to bake a cake, this time for a transgender woman. He appealed the decision.
In 2013, a couple was fined $135,000 in Oregon for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. The case also reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2019 referred the case back to an Oregon appeals court for reconsideration based on the Colorado lawsuit ruling.
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