A top European court has declined to rule in a high-profile discrimination case centred on an activist’s request to have a cake decorated with the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie and the words “Support Gay Marriage”.
- The human rights court said the case was inadmissible because Gareth Lee had failed to “exhaust domestic remedies”
- LGBTQ groups said the ruling was disappointing and also took aim at the UK Supreme Court’s 2018 decision
- However, Christian groups said the decision was “good news for Christians”
The European Court of Human Rights said the case was inadmissible because activist Gareth Lee had failed to “exhaust domestic remedies” in his case against a Northern Ireland bakery.
It was the latest ruling in a long-running legal battle that began in 2014 when Ashers Baking Co refused to make the cake Mr Lee wanted.
The owners argued they were happy to bake goods for anyone but would not put messages on their products at odds with their Christian beliefs.
Mr Lee said he was frustrated the case was thrown out on what he called “a technicality” and said freedom of expression “must equally apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people”.
He originally ordered the cake to support a campaign to allow same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.
That campaign succeeded when Britain’s Parliament stepped in to bring the region into line with the rest of the country.
Britain’s Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the bakery’s refusal to make Mr Lee’s cake did not amount to discrimination, reversing a lower court’s ruling.
Mr Lee then took his case to the France-based human rights court in Strasbourg, arguing that the UK Supreme Court decision breached the European Convention on Human Rights.
But in a written ruling, the rights court said it could not rule because Mr Lee had not raised the convention in his UK court actions.
“Because he had failed to exhaust domestic remedies, the application was inadmissible,” the Court of Human Rights said.
LGBTQ support group the Rainbow Project said the ruling was disappointing.
“When a commercial business is providing services to the public, they cannot discriminate against their customers or clients on any grounds protected by equality law,” said John O’Doherty, the group’s director.
He said the 2018 UK Supreme Court ruling created legal uncertainty throughout the country.
“Unfortunately, with today’s decision, that uncertainty will remain,” he said.
The Christian Institute, which backed the legal fight of the McArthur family that runs Ashers Baking Co, welcomed the ruling, which a spokesman called “good news for free speech, good news for Christians, and good news for the McArthurs”.
“The UK Supreme Court engaged at length with the human rights arguments in this case and upheld the McArthurs’ rights to freedom of expression and religion,” spokesman Simon Calvert said.