I have to admit I was surprised by the verdict. For me, the case was not simply one of straightforward homophobia. Refusing to write a message fundamentally at odds with one’s beliefs is different from, say, refusing a couple a bed in a B&B: it is to involve people in an argument rather than simply request that they act as disinterested providers. If Ashers had simply refused to sell any cake at all to Mr Lee or any other LGBT person, then that would be an obvious act of discrimination.
The case is complicated further by the fact that equal marriage is not just a religious issue in Northern Ireland: it is a live political issue. Less than a month ago, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted against the legalisation of equal marriage. We are now in the strange situation where the Equality Commission and the court have both decided that refusing to write an equal marriage slogan on a cake is against equality, while equal marriage itself is illegal.
The court ruled that as Ashers is a commercial organisation rather than a church there can be no exception. This is bound to lead to a wonderful summer of Northern Ireland’s national sport, whataboutery. Already all sorts of scenarios are being dreamt up, from Jews baking Nazi cakes to the somewhat confusing conclusion by loyalist “flags” activist Jamie Bryson that the ruling now means pubs must serve him while wearing his pipe band uniform.