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Wide impact of gay cake ruling

The impact of the Ashers branding discrimination case could affect promotional merchandise industry.

A recent legal ruling in Northern Ireland could have far-reaching legal implications. A judge ruled that a Christian-run bakery discriminated against a gay customer by refusing to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. Ashers Baking Company, based in County Antrim, was taken to court by a gay rights activist, assisted by Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission.

The judge ruled Ashers Bakery were not exempt from the law despite their religious views.  The ruling suggests that all business owners will have to be willing to promote any cause or campaign, no matter how much they disagree with it. This in effect means that promotional merchandise businesses could be required to print slogans and logos onto products and accept orders for and from causes which they may not agree with as long as they are lawful.

For instance, the ruling could force a Muslim printer to publish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, or a T-shirt company owned by lesbians could be obliged to print shirts with slogans describing gay marriage as an “abomination”.

Leading human rights lawyer Aidan O’Neill QC said the implications of the decision concerning Ashers Baking Company would have far-reaching consequences for businesses that refuse custom based on principles.

The Equality Act 2010 stipulates that a person or business cannot discriminate against a “protective characteristic” so this would cover race, religion and sexuality. bpma Director General Gordon Glenister commented: “This is an interesting case and I know our members receive slogans from all kinds of causes and organisations. None have been refused to my knowledge. The bpma at all times encourages members to act within the law.”

Ashers Baking Company has indicated that they will be appealing the judgement with much interest generated in the final outcome of what will become a benchmark test case ruling.

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