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Christian bakery loses ‘gay rights’ HR case

BY Gerry O'Hare
Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

A county court in Northern Ireland has found that a bakery unlawfully discriminated against a gay man when it refused to accept an order for a cake bearing an image and slogan supporting same sex marriage. 

The customer complained that the refusal to provide the cake constituted unlawful HR on the grounds of sexual orientation. The court further found that the bakery could not rely on their, sincerely held, religious belief as a defence to their actions. 

There have been a number of recent cases in which the courts have wrestled with how to balance the competing rights of religious belief and the right not to be unlawfully discriminated against due to an employee or customer’s sexual orientation.  In almost all cases, the courts have taken the view that the right to access goods and services outweighs any religious beliefs of the employee or business, no matter how strongly held. 

The case has caused considerable controversy with proposals put forward to include a ‘conscience clause’ in equality legislation which would exempt those individuals with religious beliefs from having to act contrary to those beliefs.  

Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the decision (and there are legal commentators on both sides of the debate), the decision sends a clear warning to employers and to those who provide goods and services, to tread very carefully in turning down business based not only on objections to sexual orientation, but also political or religious beliefs.

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