Gay cake ruling 'protects everyone from compelled speech'

The McArthurs won their case at the UK Supreme Court in 2018.The Christian Institute

The Evangelical Alliance has welcomed the European Court of Human Rights' decision not to hear a case involving a Christian bakery that refused to make a pro-gay cake.

Ashers Baking Co declined to create a cake iced with the words "Support Gay Marriage". 

The order was placed by gay rights activist Gareth Lee in 2014, who said he had been discriminated against by the bakery's refusal to make the cake.

He took the Belfast-based bakery and its owners, Colin and Karen McArthur, to court but in 2018, the McArthurs won the case at the UK Supreme Court, which concluded that equality law does not compel people to say something they profoundly disagree with.

Mr Lee then sought a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that would prevent business owners from being able to refuse to make products because they disagree with the messages contained in them. 

On Thursday the ECHR ruled the case inadmissable, meaning that the UK Supreme Court verdict stands. 

Peter Lynas, UK director of the Evangelical Alliance and a former barrister, said "everyone is better off" as a result of Thursday's decision.

He said it "protects us all from compelled speech" and means that "everyone's human rights have been affirmed". 

"This case was about freedom of conscience, speech and belief, and whether someone could be forced to create a message they profoundly disagreed with. Today's ruling protects everyone from compelled speech," he said.

"The Supreme Court found no discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, religious belief or political opinion.

"The issue was always the message rather than the messenger. In ruling the case inadmissible, the ECHR has effectively backed the Supreme Court ruling."

Simon Calvert, spokesman for The Christian Institute, which supported the McArthurs in the seven-year battle, said the ruling protects business owners from being forced to promote views they do not share. 

"This could have included a Muslim printer being forced to print cartoons of Muhammad, or a lesbian-owned bakery being forced to make a cake describing gay marriage as an 'abomination'," he said.

"This is good news for free speech, good news for Christians, and good news for the McArthurs."

Mr Lee's lawyer, Ciaran Moynagh of Phoenix Law, told Belfast Live that they are considering bringing a fresh court challenge under domestic law.