Ashers may appeal decision in Bert and Ernie gay cake case

The law is no trifling pursuit, so why did NI’s legal system concern itself with that cake?

There is a well known legal phrase in Latin, "De Minimis non curat lex", which means the law does not concern itself with trifles. So, why did it concern itself with a cake?

It's a question some people are asking after the so-called Bert and Ernie gay cake case concluded on Tuesday with victory for gay rights advocate Gareth Lee and the North's Equality Commission, who supported him in the action.

Ashers was prosecuted for refusing to bake a cake with the message "Support Gay Marriage" and featuring Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie with their arms around one another.

There was a legal expectation that Mr Lee and the commission would win but at a wider societal level concern was expressed over whether the commission had chosen its battleground wisely.


Dr Michael Wardlow, head of the commission, was convinced it was the right thing to do to take the case. "The cake and the money isn't important," he said.

“It’s about whether or not someone like Gareth can walk into a shop or a hotel or a restaurant and wonder can I be served here because they may have a different religious opinion to me. This is not about the cake,” he added.

Green and Orange

In terms of political reaction the divisions were along Green and Orange lines with Sinn Féin and the SDLP welcoming the judgment and most unionists deploring the ruling. The strongest religious response was from Rev Dr

Norman Hamilton

, convener of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s council for church in society who said “in a deeply disturbing development, businesses will now be compelled to produce materials or messages, even if they are incompatible with their owners’ deeply and reasonably held beliefs”.

Spoke to reporters

Daniel McArthur, the 25-year-old managing director of Ashers, spoke to reporters outside the court, his wife Amy beside him, her palm pressing into his back to support him.

Some people in the South perhaps have a picture of Protestant evangelicals like the Rev Ian Paisley in his most bigoted days, but that is a caricature of most such Christians.

He repeated that the company’s disagreement “was with the message, not with the customer” and added that the commission appeared to be suggesting businesses such as his should close down. “That can’t be right. But we won’t be closing down,” he said.

He couldn’t give a definitive answer as to whether he will appeal. That could hinge on how the rest of this latest social drama unfolds. Should gay rights groups put in orders to Ashers for similar Bert and Ernie cakes then McArthur and his family will have some very deep soul-searching to do as they decide between their consciences and their business.

Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute, which supported Ashers, hoped that would not happen. "That is one of the dangers coming out of this ruling, that people who want to be mischievous – and it's a tiny minority of the population – might do exactly that sort of thing. Most ordinary people think, why not just leave this family alone."

Dr Wardlow said the issue had raised huge levels of public discussion and hoped “that that debate is carried on with grace and generosity from here on in, just as Gareth has carried himself”.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times