After a Christian bakery rejected a homophobic complaint, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that discrimination by gay rights activists is not admissible. 

The high-profile controversy first flared when Gareth Lee ordered a £36.50 cake from Ashers bakery in Belfast in May 2014. 

The cake, commissioned for a private function marking International Day Against Homophobia, featured Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie and was to be iced with the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’.

His order was accepted and he paid in full, but, two days later, the Christian owners of the company, Daniel and Amy McArthur, called to say it could not proceed due to the message requested.

Mr Lee, a member of the LGBT advocacy group QueerSpace, then launched the legal case, supported by Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission, alleging discrimination on the grounds of his sexuality. 

The case was fought in several courts, eventually in 2018 reaching the UK Supreme Court, which ruled that Mr Lee was not discriminated against when Ashers bakery refused to make him a cake with the slogan supporting gay marriage.

The case was referred to the ECHR by Mr Lee, who claimed that the Supreme Court did not give him the proper weight under the European Convention of Human Rights.

But the ECHR in Strasbourg today ruled that the case was ‘inadmissible’, finding that Mr Lee had failed to ‘exhaust domestic remedies’ in the case, and he had not ‘invoked his Convention rights at any point in the domestic proceedings’.   

According to its decision, the court stated that convention arguments had to be made explicit or substantively before domestic authorities.

The applicant relied solely upon domestic law and deprived domestic courts of any opportunity to resolve Convention issues. Instead of asking the court for the right to intrude on the domestic courts’ role,

“He had not exhausted domestic remedies and the application was therefore inadmissible.”

Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy, the owners of Ashers bakery, pictured in 2018

Ashers Bakery owners, Daniel McArthur (left) and Amy McArthur (right), pictured in 2018.

The Belfast bakers refused to make a cake decorated with the words 'Support Gay Marriage' (pictured: A cake with a similar design, made by another bakery)

Belfast’s bakery refused to bake a cake decorated in the words “Support Gay Marriage”. (pictured: An identical cake, by another bakery). 

He had won prior hearings at both the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal, County Court and Mr Lee’s home in 2015. In 2016, the Ashers family, supported by the Christian Institute, challenged these rulings at The Supreme Court. 

Five justices unanimously decided that the bakers had not discriminated against customers in 2018. Lady Hale, the then-president of Supreme Court, stated that they did not deny the orders because the customer was gay, but instead because the customers objected to the’message on the cake.

The case was referred to the ECHR by Mr Lee, who claimed that the Supreme Court did not give him the proper weight under the European Convention of Human Rights. 

He claims his rights have been violated by the UK’s Supreme Court decision to dismiss his claim of breaching the statutory duty of providing services. The interference was unjustifiable.

The UK Supreme Court’s former president Lady Hale stated in a past hearing that McArthur’s family holds the belief that “the only marriage compatible with the Bible and acceptable before God” is between a man (or woman) and a couple.

She stated that Mr Lee had claimed sexual discrimination and the bakers were not able to refuse to fulfill his orders because of Lee’s sexual orientation.

In 2018, the UK Supreme Court ruled that Northern Ireland gay rights activist Gareth Lee was not discriminated against

2018: The UK Supreme Court ruled Gareth Lee, a Northern Ireland gay rights activist, was not discriminated against

“They would not have made such a cake to any customer regardless of their sexual orientation.

“Their objection was to what was on the cake and not the characteristics of Mr Lee, or anyone with whom he was affiliated.

At the time, Mr Lee stated that refusing to bake the cake made it feel second-class.

McArthurs claimed they refused to turn down an order for this cake because the recipient was not qualified, but due to the request on the cakes.

On Thursday, the ECHR will issue a written decision.

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