The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal was asked to decide the question of whether religious beliefs trump the law against discrimination in the supply of goods and services on grounds of sexual orientation.
Ashers Bakery cancelled an order taken by their shop assistant to decorate a cake with a picture of Bert & Ernie and the caption 'Support Gay Marriage'. The McArthurs are devout Christians who believe that gay marriage is sinful, and they accepted they cancelled the order because of that belief.
The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal held that the benefit from the slogan could only accrue to gay or bisexual people, and that the McArthurs would not have objected to decorating a cake saying 'Support Heterosexual Marriage'. The reason why they cancelled the order was that the message related to gay marriage, and there was an exact correspondence between those of the particular sexual orientation and those whom the message supported the right to marry. Accordingly this was a case of 'associative discrimination' with the gay and bisexual community, and amounted to direct discrimination.
The Court of Appeal went on to hold that the McArthurs' own right to free speech (ie objecting to gay marriage) was not being infringed. Nobody could reasonably conclude that by icing a cake, they were expressing personal support for the slogan - just as icing witches on a Halloween cake does not indicate they support witchcraft. The McArthurs were entitled to refuse to decorate cakes involving any religious or political message, but they were not allowed to refuse to decorate cakes which carried a particular religious or political message just because it conflicted with their own views.