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Ashers ruling will have far-reaching implications

The protracted and costly legal process that has ended up at the UK Supreme Court has been exceptionally draining and stressful for the people at the centre of what has become known as the 'gay cake' case.

Both sides, Daniel and Amy McArthur, the Christian owners of Ashers Bakery, and Gareth Lee, a member of an LGBT advocacy group who has said all he wanted to do 'was order a cake', are people with sincerely held views who did not set out to become the focus of international media attention.

What is regrettable in all of this is that something as seemingly innocuous as ordering a cake could have escalated as it did, leading to sharply divided public opinion and no small measure of political posturing.

It is fair to say that the ruling by the Supreme Court yesterday in favour of the McArthurs came as rather a surprise given that two other courts, including the Appeal Court in Belfast, had found that Mr Lee - whose order for a cake iced with the words 'Support Gay Marriage' was initially accepted then refused - had suffered discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The Supreme Court took a different view, saying the bakers objected to the message on the cake, not Mr Lee's sexual orientation and therefore there was no discrimination.

The court also found that no one should be 'forced to have to express a political opinion in which he does not believe.'

This judgment, touching as it does on issues of religious belief, freedom of expression and freedom of conscience, will have far-reaching implications which deserve to be fully considered.

Announcing the ruling, Lady Hale said: ''This conclusion is not in any way to diminish the need to protect gay people and people who support gay marriage from discrimination.''

The message that discrimination in all its forms is wrong is one that needs to be heeded by those who would seek to make political capital out of this difficult case.

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