Having your cake and eating it? Reflections on the UK Supreme Court’s decision in the ‘Belfast gay marriage cake’ case

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School)

Photo: QueerSpace

On 10 October 2018 five judges on a panel of the UK Supreme Court unanimously held that the owners of Ashers bakery in Belfast, Mr and Mrs McArthur, had not violated the rights of LGBT activist, Mr Gareth Lee, by refusing to supply a cake decorated with Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie, the logo of the campaign group ‘QueerSpace’, and the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’. The bakery had initially accepted Mr Lee’s order but declined to complete it and returned his money on the grounds that the proposed message conflicted with the deeply held religious convictions of the proprietors, that the only form of marriage consistent with the Bible and acceptable to God is that between a man and a woman. Supported by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, Mr Lee brought a claim against the bakery and the McArthurs (‘the appellants’) for direct and indirect discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and/or on grounds of religious belief and/or political opinion contrary to relevant legislation. In March 2015 a county court judge held that Mr Lee had been the victim of direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, religious opinion and political belief. The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal subsequently upheld the sexual orientation complaint and decided there was no need to settle the other issues. Having earlier been joined as party to the appellate proceedings, on 28 October 2016, the Attorney General for Northern Ireland referred the matter to the UK Supreme Court where it was heard together with the appeal by the McArthurs and the bakery (more…)

Why we are teaching Law and Race at the University of Bristol

By Dr Foluke Adebisi, Teaching Fellow (University of Bristol Law School).

‘Education does not change the world. Education changes people. People change the world.’ — Paulo Freire, Brazilian Philosopher and Educator

In the 2018/2019 academic year, Yvette Russell and I will be (for the first time) teaching a unit called Law and Race. It is a very exciting prospect, not least because there are very few law schools in the UK who teach race in any direct or focused way, and much fewer have a unit dedicated to race. This has been an intellectually stimulating enterprise for both of us, and in this article, I would like to explain why we have embarked on it and what we hope to achieve.

The history of the world can be perceived as the history of continuing inequalities. Oftentimes, race functions as the motivation for and justification of oppressive social, cultural, economic and political structures. This is evidenced by colonisation, slavery, and persistent global racial inequalities that cut across gender and class. Law has often been used to create, justify or maintain these demarcations. Notwithstanding this, legal study often ignores the correlation between race and law, as well as the paradox inherent in the use of law to both oppress and liberate. In our unit we aim to examine legal history and the current state of the law in a critical exploration of how legal evolution has impacted upon and caused racial disparities, and how these factors are continuously consciously and unconsciously embedded and reproduced within the operation of law. (more…)