A bakery in Belfast is facing legal action after its owner refused to make a cake with the words “support gay marriage” on it. Ashers Baking Company staff initially accepted the order but when it was reviewed by the owners they decided the cake went against their Christian beliefs, according to the Daily Mail.
In the past, Christians have been fired for refusing to take part in Civil Partnership ceremonies, or for denying sex therapy but this is thought to be the first time a Christian has been sued for refusing to campaign in favour of gay rights.
The dispute began in May when an activist from QueerSpace ordered a cake from the bakers supporting gay marriage and featuring two characters from Sesame Street. But the family that own the shop decided they were unwilling to make the cake and offered a full refund, this is something they claim to have done before when asked to produce cakes they deemed to be obscene. Due to modern icing methods the cakes could in theory have almost any picture put on them.
Colin and Karen McArthur, and their son Daniel, who is manager, offered the refund because they took the view production of the cake was contrary to their beliefs. Mr McArthur said: “I would like the outcome of this to be that any Christians running a business could be allowed to follow their Christian beliefs and principles in the day-to-day running of the business and that they are allowed to make decisions based on that.”
He has said that he will not back down whatever the legal threats, but the government-funded Equality Commission’s Northern Ireland branch, has now warned him that they now face a legal claim.
A letter from the Commission said: “We have advised Mr Lee that you have acted unlawfully and contrary to Regulation Five of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 which prohibits discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services to a person seeking or obtaining to use those goods, facilities or services on the grounds of sexual orientation.” It said county court proceedings would start within seven days of the letter.
If Ashers Bakery is successfully sued it will establish a precedence that businesses must produce campaign material for causes even if they disagree with them if it can be proved to be related to gender, sexuality or religion.
The legal duty to produce campaign material for a group you strong disagree with is likely to be fought all the way to the Supreme Court.