THE Christian owners of a bakery discriminated against a gay man when they refused to make a cake carrying a slogan that promoted same-sex marriage.
A judge at Belfast County Court found that Ashers Baking Company acted unlawfully by declining the request from gay rights activist Gareth Lee last year.
Ordering the company to pay damages of £500, District Judge Isobel Brownlie said religious beliefs could not dictate the law.
She said: “The defendants are entitled to continue to hold their genuine and deeply-held religious beliefs and to manifest them but, in accordance with the law, not to manifest them in the commercial sphere if it is contrary to the rights of others.”
The Northern Ireland Equality Commission, which monitors compliance with anti-discrimination laws, brought the landmark legal action on behalf of Mr Lee.
Ashers, which is owned by the McArthur family, was supported by the Christian Institute, which paid their legal costs.
Delivering her 90-minute judgment to a packed courtroom, the judge said there was a huge interest in the case.
She said: “The defendants have unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff on grounds of sexual discrimination.
“This is direct discrimination for which there can be no justification.”
Mr Lee, a member of the LGBT advocacy group Queer Space, wanted a cake featuring Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie with the slogan Support Gay Marriage for a private function to mark International Anti Homophobia Day.
He paid in full when placing the order at Ashers’ Belfast branch but said he was stunned when, two days later, the company phoned to say it could not be processed.
Mr Lee claimed to have been left feeling like a lesser person.
The judge accepted he had been treated “less favourably”, contrary to the law.
She also said the bakers must have been aware that he was gay or associated with others who were gay and supported same-sex marriage because of the graphics he had supplied.
It was the word “gay” to which they objected.