Northern Ireland Has Its Own Civil Law Cake Battle

by Donyae Lewis

South Florida Gay News

Sunday December 10, 2017

This week, the U.S. Supreme court heard arguments on a 2012 discrimination case involving a bakery denying service to a gay couple due to religious beliefs. It seems they are not alone - there's a similar battle in Northern Ireland.

According to the Thomas Reuters Foundation, a Belfast bakery was found guilty of discrimination for refusing to design a cake that said "Support Gay Marriage." The case will be taken to Britain's Supreme Court in April to see if the Christian-run bakery is valid in refusing service that backs gay rights.

Although both the U.S. and Northern Ireland cases stem from different laws, experts said both of these incidents highlight the dangers that can come for the LGBT community if the refusal of service in either bakery is supported in the higher courts.

"This is a very slippery slope," GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis told TRF. "I'm a gay mom and having my children refused being treated in an emergency situation is terrifying ... This is way more than about cake."

Ashers Baking Co in Belfast would actually not be considered guilty of discrimination in the U.S., due to the fact that it was a "design-based" refusal and not a "user-based" refusal. In the U.S,, sexual orientation is only protected on a state-by-state basis.

However, Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow points out that comparing cases in both countries can be problematic where the climates are completely different.

"While we can look to international law as a thought process and an assessment of how other countries are handling a variety of issues, it's dangerous to compare a potential legal outcome in the United States to a case from a foreign country," she said.

As citizens in both countries wait for verdicts, Lambda Legal Director of Law and Policy Jennifer Pizer points out what we all should be considering when thinking of these cases.

"If the civil rights laws can be evaded that easily, then they really become meaningless in many circumstances and that takes us down a very dangerous and hurtful path," she said.

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