‘Gay cake’ legal challenge thrown out by European Court of Human Rights

Gareth Lee failed to ‘exhaust domestic remedies’ in seven-year legal case against Christian bakers who refused to make cake with pro-gay marriage slogan, court rules

Chiara Giordano
Thursday 06 January 2022 10:41
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<p>Gareth Lee has lost a seven-year legal battle against the Christian owners of a Belfast bakery who refused to make him a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan </p>

Gareth Lee has lost a seven-year legal battle against the Christian owners of a Belfast bakery who refused to make him a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan

A man has lost a seven-year legal battle against the Christian owners of a Belfast bakery who refused to make him a cake with the slogan “support gay marriage” after his claim was ruled inadmissible by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The ECHR said Gareth Lee had failed to “exhaust domestic remedies” in the long-running so-called “gay cake” case.

In 2018, the UK Supreme Court ruled Mr Lee was not discriminated against when Ashers bakery refused to make him a cake with the slogan supporting gay marriage.

Mr Lee then referred the case to the ECHR, claiming the Supreme Court failed to give appropriate weight to him under the European Convention of Human Rights.

But, in a ruling, the court said: “Convention arguments must be raised explicitly or in substance before the domestic authorities.”

It added: “The applicant had not invoked his Convention rights at any point in the domestic proceedings.

“By relying solely on domestic law, the applicant had deprived the domestic courts of the opportunity to address any Convention issues raised, instead asking the court to usurp the role of the domestic courts.

“Because he had failed to exhaust domestic remedies, the application was inadmissible.”

The high-profile controversy first flared when Mr Lee, a member of the LGBT advocacy group QueerSpace, ordered a £36.50 cake from Ashers in May 2014 featuring Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie for a private function marking the International Day Against Homophobia.

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

Mr Lee then launched the legal case, supported by Northern Ireland's Equality Commission, alleging discrimination on the grounds of his sexuality, and won hearings at the county court and the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal in 2015 and 2016.

But the owners of Ashers, Daniel and Amy McArthur - backed by the Christian Institute - challenged those rulings at the Supreme Court, and in 2018 five justices unanimously ruled they had not discriminated against the customer.

Mr Lee said he had “hoped for a different outcome” in his challenge to the ECHR.

He said: “Everyone has freedom of expression and it must equally apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people.

“The message on the cake was mine and I paid a company that printed messages on cakes to print my message.

“My message supported the campaign for same-sex marriage that was ultimately successful and I am delighted with that.

“I am most frustrated that the core issues did not get fairly analysed and adjudicated upon because of a technicality.

“None of us should be expected to have to figure out the beliefs of a company’s owners before going into their shop or paying for their services.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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