Dispute over gay marriage-themed cake in Northern Ireland returns to Supreme Court

PHOTO: Daniel McArthur and wife Amy, who own Ashers Baking Company, are pictured entering the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast, Northern Ireland, May 1, 2018. Press Eye Ltd/REX/Shutterstock
Daniel McArthur and wife Amy, who own Ashers Baking Company, are pictured entering the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast, Northern Ireland, May 1, 2018.

A Northern Ireland bakery run by evangelical Christians has launched a new appeal to overturn two previous rulings that they discriminated against a customer who requested a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan in 2014.

Gareth Lee placed an order at the Ashers Baking Co. in May 2014 for a cake depicting Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie, along with a motto supporting equal marriage, for an event marking International Day Against Homophobia.

PHOTO: Gareth Lee is pictured entering the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast, Northern Ireland, May 1, 2018. Press Eye Ltd/REX/Shutterstock
Gareth Lee is pictured entering the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast, Northern Ireland, May 1, 2018.

The bakers refunded his order, which was part of a same-sex marriage campaign event, and declined to make the cake, saying the message went against their Christian faith.

The company was ordered to pay 500 pounds sterling (about $680) compensation to Lee in 2015, after a Belfast court ruled the bakery had unlawfully discriminated against Lee on the grounds of sexual orientation and religious belief or political opinion.

Local news outlet Irish News reported that the family’s lawyer told the five justices hearing the case today in the Supreme Court: “Mr. and Mrs. McArthur have been penalized by the state, in the form of the judgment, for failing to create and provide a product bearing an explicit slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’ to which they have an objection of conscience.”

PHOTO: Ashers Baking Company in Belfast, Northern Ireland is pictured in this March 26, 2015 file photo. Peter Morrison/AP, FILE
Ashers Baking Company in Belfast, Northern Ireland is pictured in this March 26, 2015 file photo.

Lee sued the bakery in 2015 and was backed by Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission. The incident made him feel “like a lesser person,” he said.

The bakery had said its disagreement was not with the customer, but with the message requested on the cake.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule later this year or in early 2019.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the U.K. that does not allow same-sex marriage because it is a matter for the regional government.

But the Northern Ireland Assembly hasn’t functioned for more than a year after the collapse of a power-sharing agreement.

The Republic of Ireland, a deeply Christian country, legalized same-sex marriage in November 2015 after a historic referendum.