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Gay Rights v Religious belief

The County Court for Northern Ireland, delivered its judgment earlier this week in a case which held that a gay customer’s right to access goods and services is more protected than the service provider’s religious belief.

The case involved a Bakery which was sued because its manager cancelled an order for a cake with an image and slogan supporting gay marriage. The customer complained that the bakery should not be permitted to refuse service on the grounds of sexual orientation. The bakery argued that it was not discriminating against the customer because of their sexuality but because of the message on the cake.

The court held that, in their failure to provide goods and services to an individual on the grounds of their sexual orientation and political opinion, the two directors of the bakery were guilty of direct discrimination for which there could be no justification.

This is a complex area which has been the subject of a few cases so far.  Some readers may remember the case of the Registrar who refused to carry out civil partnership ceremonies or the case of the Christian Relate Counsellor who was reluctant to help same sex couples.  All of these cases highlight the direct conflict between the protection afforded to religion or religious belief and the protection afforded to sexual orientation, as well as the difficulty in striking a balance between the two competing rights.  They however all concluded that religious belief could not justify discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation.

This a complex area which may lead to significant issues in practice and employer should not simply assume that gay rights will always supersede religious belief.  To avoid pitfalls and potential discrimination claims, seek advice before making a decision.

Please feel free to contact us on 0191 282 2880 for a no obligation chat or email us if you require further advice.

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