The Supreme Court have unanimously ruled that a Christian baker’s refusal to supply their goods and services to a same-sex marriage activist by making a cake decorated with the words, ‘support gay marriage’ was not discrimination.
The action was brought by a gay rights activist who originally won his case in the County Court and at Northern Ireland Court of Appeal before the matter was brought before the Supreme Court. The defendant had maintained that in being asked to supply the cake, they were being forced to act against their religious beliefs.
Following the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision, Lady Hale has said, “It is deeply humiliating, and an affront to human dignity, to deny someone a service because of that person’s race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief. But that is not what happened in this case. As to Mr Lee’s [the claimant’s] claim based on sexual discrimination, the bakers did not refuse to fulfil his order because of his sexual orientation”.
Lady Hale went on to comment, “The bakers could not refuse to supply their goods to Mr Lee because he was a gay man or supported gay marriage, but that is quite different from obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed”.
What is the definition of discrimination?
Under the Equality Act 2010, discrimination is the unequal treatment of an individual/individuals on the grounds of one or more of a protected characteristic. Protected characteristics are:
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
- Pregnancy and maternity
The Supreme Court in this case appears to have interpreted the legislation to provide only for discrimination claims to be brought in circumstances where an individual is subjected to unfavourable treatment as a result of themselves holding one of the protected characteristics and the treatment being directed at that individual for this reason.
If you feel that you have been treated differently or have been subjected to a detriment due to sex or sexual orientation, please call our specialist discrimination team for further advice on 0175 321 6399.
By Lucy Bishop, graduate paralegal in the discrimination law team