Christian bakers who refused to bake a pro-gay marriage cake have lost their appeal

Updated: 

Christian bakers found to have discriminated against a gay man by refusing to make a cake bearing a pro-gay marriage slogan have lost their appeal against the ruling.

The owners of Belfast-based Ashers declined an order placed by gay activist Gareth Lee, claiming the message was inconsistent with their deeply held religious beliefs.

Gareth, a member of the LGBT advocacy group Queer Space, had wanted a cake featuring Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie with the phrase "Support Gay Marriage" for a private function marking International Day Against Homophobia.

Daniel and Amy McArthur of Ashers Baking Company
Daniel and Amy McArthur of Ashers Baking Company (Niall Carson/PA)

He paid the £36.50 cost of the cake, but was telephoned two days later and told the company could not fulfil his order.

Throughout the legal proceedings, Daniel McArthur, the company's general manager, insisted Gareth's sexuality was never an issue, rather the message he wanted the bakery to create.

Gareth claimed the episode left him feeling like a lesser person. His case was taken in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Equality Commission.

In the original high-profile case last year, District Judge Isobel Brownlie ruled that religious beliefs could not dictate the law and ordered the firm to pay damages of £500.

Ashers, a name with Biblical connotations, has six branches, employs more than 80 people and delivers across the UK and Ireland. Throughout the legal battle it has been supported by The Christian Institute, which has organised public rallies and garnered financial backing for the case.

Ashers
The bakery has six branches in Ireland (Brian Lawless/PA)

In delivering the appeal judgment, Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, said Ashers had directly discriminated.

He rejected the argument that the bakery would be endorsing the slogan by baking the cake.

"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," he said.