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Photographers booked for Christian bakers in gay cake case refuse to hand over images in ‘stand against discrimination’

Exclusive: ‘We appreciate that this looks like tit for tat, and it is,’ says company, which has promised a full refund

Tom Batchelor
Thursday 11 October 2018 14:06 BST
Christian bakers win 'gay cake' Supreme Court appeal

A photographic agency hired to take pictures of the Christian owners of a bakery after their Supreme Court victory in the “gay cake” case has refused to hand over the images, saying the company was “standing up against discrimination”.

On Wednesday, Ashers bakery in Belfast won an appeal over a claim that they had discriminated against a customer after they refused to make him a cake iced with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage".

A photographer was reserved using the booking site Perfocal for a “business event” which listed only a few details about the brief, with no mention of the specific court case or the individuals to be photographed.

But the photographer later realised that the client was the lobby group Christian Institute, which has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds backing the bakery in their legal challenge. The images were then withheld and a refund issued.

In a statement Tony Xu, the founder of the booking site, said: “We appreciate that this looks like tit for tat, and it is.”

He said the firm had been booked for many religious ceremonies, as well as same-sex weddings.

“In short, we welcome customers from all backgrounds,” he said. “When our photographer on the ground learned what it was while doing the job, they felt immediately uncomfortable with the situation, as many members of the public are, but remained professional.

“As soon as I found out though, I realised this was an opportunity to highlight exactly why this kind of result is damaging.

“This isn’t just about standing up against discrimination, I hope our stance serves as an example of exactly where this kind of judgement could lead us. Where does it end?”

Mr Xu told The Independent: "Division is being felt everywhere, and I’d sooner we all appreciated each other regardless of our differences. Our knowingly tit-for-tat stance is purely intended to highlight what this kind of judgement opens the door to."

Perfocal said the photographer would still receive payment for the work and the Christian Institute had been reimbursed the £267 for their booking.

Controversy first flared when Gareth Lee, a member of the LGBT advocacy group QueerSpace, ordered a £36.50 cake in 2014 featuring Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie for a private function marking International Day Against Homophobia.

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

Mr Lee then brought legal action against the bakery, initially winning his case in the county court and then at the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal.

However the owners of the bakery, the McArthur family, challenged those rulings at a Supreme Court hearing in Belfast in May.

In a brief statement announcing the court's decision, its president, Lady Hale, said bakers did not refuse to fulfil his order because of his sexual orientation, "they would have refused to make such a cake for any customer, irrespective of their sexual orientation".

She added: "Their objection was to the message on the cake, not to the personal characteristics of Mr Lee or of anyone else with whom he was associated."

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK or Ireland where same-sex marriage is outlawed, with Prime Minister Theresa May's DUP allies staunch opponents of changing the law.

Mr Lee said he is considering his options regarding an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Responding to the refusal to hand over the images, Ciarán Kelly, deputy director of the Christian Institue, said: "We’ve been in touch with the company involved and thanked them for their impending refund. 

"We think it’s great that we live in a country where people are free to express, or not express, their sincerely held beliefs – the point underlined so emphatically in court yesterday."

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