ECHR finds Christian bakery LGBT cake dispute inadmissible
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ECHR finds Christian bakery LGBT cake dispute inadmissible

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) Thursday issued a final decision that a complaint concerning a bakery’s refusal to fulfil an order for a cake advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights is inadmissible.

The dispute arose in 2014 following a third unsuccessful attempt to legalize same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. Gareth Lee ordered and paid for a cake from Ashers Baking Company. The cake was to read “Support Gay Marriage,” feature the logo of volunteer-operated group QueerSpace, and include an edible picture of Bert and Ernie, cartoon characters from The Muppets.

Lee received a refund on the cancellation of his order. Ashers Baking Company explained that as a business which ascribes to the Christian faith, it could not make the cake, and thereby promote LGBTQIA+ rights.

Lee emphasized that Ashers Baking Company had not specified when he placed his order that the owners could refuse to fulfil orders based on their personal beliefs with respect to the cake design. The owners of Ashers Baking Company argued that their decision was acceptable as they have freedom of religion provided for by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lee told local media:

My message supported the campaign for same-sex marriage that was ultimately successful and I am delighted with that. I am most frustrated that the core issues did not get fairly [analyzed] and adjudicated upon because of a technicality. None of us should be expected to have to figure out the beliefs of a company’s owners before going into their shop or paying for their services.

The ECHR finding Lee’s complaint to be inadmissible follows a decision of the UK Supreme Court in 2018 which found that Ashers Baking Company did not discriminate against Lee. This decision was on the basis that Ashers Baking Company refused to fulfil Lee’s order because of the message it promoted. Namely, that Northern Ireland should legalize same-sex marriage. Therefore, in the Court’s opinion, Lee himself had not been discriminated against in respect of his sexuality.

Northern Ireland legalized marriage between same-sex couples in 2020.