Earlier this year, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal’s decision in what is being reported in the press as the ‘gay cake’ case.
The facts of the case are that Mr Lee, a gay man associated with an organisation called QueerSpace, a volunteer organisation for the LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland where there has been considerable political debate regarding the introduction of same-sex marriage, a devolved issue where no legislation currently exists unlike elsewhere in Great Britain.
Mr Lee ordered a cake from Ashers Bakery which was to decorated with the QueerSpace logo and the words ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
Initially Ashers Bakery accepted the order from Mr Lee but then, on reflection decided that they could not fulfil the order because the bakery was a ‘Christian business’ and gay marriage went against their devout religious beliefs.
Initially the Courts in Northern Ireland supported Mr Lee’s claim that refusing his order was an act of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and political opinion and religious belief, but the Supreme Court disagreed that there had been no discrimination (either direct or indirect) on the grounds of sexual orientation as Mr Lee’s sexuality had had no bearing on Ashers Bakery’s decision to reject his order and that the order would still have been rejected if he had not been gay.
The Supreme Court also overturned the earlier judgements that the actions of Ashers Bakery amounted to discrimination on the grounds of political opinion or religious belief.
Whilst this is not specifically employment law, the outcome of this case is likely to have a significant impact on future Employment Tribunal decisions relating to discrimination.
If, for example, an employee of a printing company refused to print leaflets in support of gay marriage for a customer of the company, previously he or she might be disciplined for their refusal; this judgement likely makes any such disciplinary action discriminatory on the grounds of the employee’s religious belief.
Moreover, in March 2019, another important case will be heard in the Employment Tribunal addressing the questions as to whether ‘ethical veganism’ might be philosophical belief and thus a protected characteristic for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. If the Employment Tribunal finds in favour of Mr Casamitjana, it will be discriminatory to treat an employee less favourably because of their veganism, such as their refusal to work on projects for companies involved in animal testing.
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