The Northern Ireland bakery company at the centre of the ‘gay cake’ discrimination row will close its central Belfast branch because it’s not “busy enough.”
The general manager of the Belfast branch Daniel McArthur, who was a public face of the Ashers Baking Company’s legal battle to counter a discrimination claim against a LGBT activist, explained the the shop was closing because it was not trading as well as its other eight outlets in the east Antrim and Belfast area.
“It simply comes down to the figures. We decided not to renew the lease,” he told the Belfast Telegraph on October 19.
“Belfast city centre isn’t busy enough—our other shops are much busier.”
He added: “It’s been planned for some time, and I am pleased to say there will be no job losses.”
The Ashers Baking Company joint is less than 100 metres away from a Primark store, which was ravaged by a fire in August.
A number of fundamentalist Christians claimed the blaze was divine retribution, after a row over Primark’s Pride selection.
On Friday (October 19), Belfast City Council announced a £1.69 million funding injection into the city centre, with businesses reporting a sharp dip in revenue after the Primark fire.
Alderman Jim Rodgers, chair of the city council’s strategic policy and resources committee, said in a press release: “We know that businesses around the cordon [next to Primark] are really suffering from a drop in footfall.”
On October 10, the Supreme Court ruled that Ashers Baking Company was not guilty of discrimination by refusing to bake a pro-gay marriage cake, in a ruling that was criticised by LGBT+ activists.
The decision followed a four-year-old dispute that started when Gareth Lee, a LGBT+ advocate with Queer Space, paid the bakery to make a cake to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. The bakery, owned by the McArthur family, refunded Lee after refusing to bake a cake showing the message ‘Support Gay Marriage’ above an image of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie citing religious values.
Lee took the bakery to court in Belfast alleging violation of the Equality Act (2010), saying the bakery’s refusal made him “feel like a lesser person.” The bakery was found guilty of discrimination based on sexual orientation and political or religious grounds in 2015.
Ashers Baking Company appealed the decision, which was dismissed a year later. But the bakery insisted on fighting the initial conviction, considering taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights, and eventually announcing in 2017 it would appeal to the UK Supreme Court.
“The bakers’ objection was to the message and not to the man,” president of the Supreme Court Lady Hale said in her judgement.
The ruling considered the claim of discrimination on three grounds—sexual orientation, political beliefs, and impact of European Convention of Human Rights—and found that the bakery was within its right to refuse Lee.
“It is deeply humiliating, and an affront to human dignity, to deny someone a service because of that person’s race, gender, disability, sexual orientation or any of the other protected personal characteristics. But that is not what happened in this case,” Lady Hale said.
The prolonged court case became a symbolic battleground for LGBT+ rights and marriage equality in Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom which has not legalised same-sex marriage. LGBT+ couples can enter a civil partnership instead.
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