Gay cake case: European Courts of Human Rights rules ‘gay cake’ discrimination complaint ‘inadmissible’

The dispute dates back to 2014, when gay rights activist Gareth Lee ordered a cake with the message ‘support gay marriage’ on it

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has announced a ruling on a long-running legal despite relating to a bakery’s refusal to make a cake with a message supporting gay marriage in 2014.

The ECHR ruled that Gareth Lee’s complaint against the bakery was inadmissible, because he had failed to “exhaust domestic remedies” in his case.

In 2018, the UK Supreme Court ruled that Lee was not discriminated against when Ashers bakery refused to make him a cake with the slogan supporting gay marriage.

Lee then referred the case to the ECHR, claiming that the Supreme Court failed to give appropriate weight to him under the European Convention of Human Rights.

But, in a ruling, the court said: “Convention arguments must be raised explicitly or in substance before the domestic authorities.”

It added: “The applicant had not invoked his Convention rights at any point in the domestic proceedings.

“By relying solely on domestic law, the applicant had deprived the domestic courts of the opportunity to address any Convention issues raised, instead asking the court to usurp the role of the domestic courts.

“Because he had failed to exhaust domestic remedies, the application was inadmissible.”

What is the background of the case?

In May 2014, Lee, a member of the LGBT advocacy group QueerSpace ordered a cake for £36.50 from Ashers bakery in Belfast.

The cake featured Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie, with Lee requesting that it be iced with the message “Support Gay Marriage”.

The cake was for a private event to mark the International Day Against Homophobia.

The bakery accepted Lee’s order initially and he then paid for the cake, but, two days later, the Christian owners of the company called to say it could not proceed due to the message requested.

Mr Lee then launched the legal case, supported by Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission, alleging discrimination on the grounds of his sexuality, and won hearings at the county court and the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal in 2015 and 2016.

But the owners of Ashers, Daniel and Amy McArthur – backed by the Christian Institute, challenged those rulings at the Supreme Court, and in 2018 five justices unanimously ruled that they had not discriminated against the customer.

The court’s then president, Lady Hale, said the McArthur family hold the religious belief that “the only form of marriage consistent with the Bible and acceptable to God is between a man and a woman”.

She said: “As to Mr Lee’s claim based on sexual discrimination, the bakers did not refuse to fulfil his order because of his sexual orientation.

“They would have refused to make such a cake for any customer, irrespective of their sexual orientation.

“Their objection was to the message on the cake, not to the personal characteristics of Mr Lee or of anyone else with whom he was associated.”

Mr Lee said at the time that the refusal to make the cake made him feel like a “second-class citizen”.

The McArthurs said they did not turn down this order because of the person who made it, but because of the message requested on the cake.

This article will continue to be updated with more information