More than £100,000 in litigation costs have been spent on the Ashers “gay cake” case has so far. The original made-to-order baked confection cost just £36.50 for retail.
The startling expenditure was revealed just as Northern Ireland’s Attorney General, John Larkin QC, intervened to slam Northern Ireland’s anti-discrimination laws that allegedly persecute people who hold certain religious beliefs.
The case rose to public prominence after an LGBT activist asked for a cake to be decorated with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage”, but the order was declined by the bakers because it promoted same-sex marriage, rather than because the customer was gay.
Despite arguing it was the message they were objecting to, not the customer, the Ashers Baking Company run by the McArthur family was taken to court and found guilty of ‘discrimination’ in May last year.
Then, in December 2015, shortly after the country voted for gay marriage in a referendum, Ireland stripped away laws protecting freedom of religion when in conflict with gay rights allowing business “to maintain the religious ethos of the institution”.
Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute argued that the wasteful case has led to the bakers being “punished for having mainstream, deeply-held religious beliefs” and raised serious concerns about freedom of religion. He told Christian Today:
“The Attorney General has decided to intervene, using his constitutional power to raise questions about the validity of the legislation used against the McArthurs.
“And it is clear from the decision taken by the three judges, including the Lord Chief Justice, that he has raised matters of importance. These will now be fully argued when the appeal comes before the court in May.
“By the time the full hearing takes place it will be two years since the cake at the centre of what has become a legal, political and theological saga was ordered.
Mr. Calvert continued: “So far, the case has generated legal costs on both sides which, combined, have broken the £100,000 barrier.
“The McArthur family’s legal costs are well over £50,000 and I’m sure the Equality Commission’s costs are at least as high.
“People are entitled to ask whether the Equality Commission should have chosen to bring the legal action over a £36.50 cake.
“But the McArthur family had no choice but to defend themselves. For them there is a lot more at stake than a cake, or the £500 damages they were ordered to pay by the county court, because they are being punished for having mainstream, deeply-held religious beliefs.
“Those beliefs don’t leave them when they leave church on a Sunday. Nor can they be thrown off when they leave home for work.
“They are committed, every minute of every day, to trying to follow the teachings of Christ, including his plain teaching about the nature of marriage. For that reason they could not help promote same-sex marriage by making the campaign cake they were asked for.
“Now a £36.50 cake has cost £100,000. And that’s before today’s hearing, and the lengthy hearing expected to run for several days in May.”
In January last year Northern Ireland Pastor James McConnell was found not guilty of a “hate crime” for referring to Islam as “heathen” and “satanic”.
The judge not only found that the Pastor had not committed a crime, he described him as “passionate” and reaffirmed that, “it is not the task of the criminal law to censor offensive utterances”.