Britain's highest court on Wednesday said a Northern Irish bakery's refusal to make a cake bearing a pro-gay slogan was not discriminatory in a ruling condemned by the customer, a gay rights activist, but hailed by the province's main conservative party.
It failed in an appeal to the local courts in 2016 but the Supreme Court, the UK's highest judicial body, overturned that decision on Wednesday, saying the bakers' objection was to the message on the cake, not to any personal characteristics of the messenger, or anyone with whom he was associated.
"This conclusion is not in any way to diminish the need to protect gay people and people who support gay marriage," said Brenda Hale, President of the Supreme Court.
"It is deeply humiliating and an affront to human dignity to deny someone the service because of that person's race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or belief but that is not what happened in this case."
The bakery would have refused to make such a cake for any customer irrespective of their sexual orientation, the court said.
Gareth Lee, a gay rights activist who had ordered the cake, said in reaction to Wednesday's ruling that he was an "a second-class citizen" in Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom where same-sex marriage is not allowed.
The province's Equality Commission, which backed Lee's case, said it was disappointed with the judgment and the implications that the beliefs of business owners may take precedence over a customer's equality rights.
But the ruling was hailed by the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the province's largest party that props up Britain's minority government and has blocked attempts to legalise gay marriage in the province.
"The Ashers ruling is a historic and seminal judgment. This now provides clarity for people of all faiths and none," DUP leader Arlene Foster said on Twitter.
Daniel McArthur, who owns the bakery with his wife Amy, said the ruling protected freedom of speech and freedom of conscience for everyone.
"We always knew we hadn't done anything wrong in turning down this order," he told reporters outside the court.
(With inputs from agencies.)