A bakery which lost a legal battle after refusing to bake a cake decorated with a same sex marriage slogan highlights a need for Midlands firms to consider whether their services will be delivered if they conflict with employees' religious beliefs.
Ashers Bakery was found to have discriminated against a customer by refusing to make a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage by a court in Northern Ireland. This week it lost its appeal against the ruling, when judges ruled that under law, the bakers were not allowed to refuse to provide a service to people who did not agreed with their religious beliefs.
Dubbed the 'gay cake case', it raises a number of issues for employers around both equal opportunities, religious beliefs and protection against sexual orientation discrimination, according to the employment team at award-winning law firm FBC Manby Bowdler.
FBC Manby Bowdler Employment Solicitor Julia Fitzsimmons said: “Ashers was asked to make a cake decorated with the slogan 'support gay marriage' but declined on the basis that to do so would compromise their Christian beliefs.
“Gareth Lee, who placed the order, also wanted a picture of Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie in an embrace, and a logo of the pressure group, QueerSpace, where he acted as a volunteer.
“The owners of the bakery refused to fulfil the order, as it was against their deeply held religious belief that same sex marriage was wrong.”
In the ruling, the judges said: "The fact that a baker provides a cake for a particular team or portrays witches on a Halloween cake does not indicate any support for either."
The judges also said that Ashers would not have objected to a cake carrying the message: "Support Heterosexual Marriage" or indeed "Support Marriage".
"We accept that it was the use of the word 'gay' in the context of the message which prevented the order from being fulfilled," they said.
Julia said: “In this case, the two directors of the bakery were guilty of direct discrimination and breached both equality and employment regulations by failing to provide goods and services on the grounds of their sexual orientation and political opinion.
“This is the latest in a number of high profile cases where the courts and tribunals have ruled that employers are entitled to take steps to ensure services are delivered on an equal opportunities basis, even if these steps conflict with an employee’s religious beliefs.
“We would advise employers to look careful at the policies they have in place and seek guidance if they are unsure about whether issues surrounding equality and discrimination in relation to both religious beliefs and sexual orientation are adequately addressed.”
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