A judge sitting at Belfast County Court has ruled today (19 May) that a Christian-run bakery that refused to bake a cake backing same-sex ‘marriage’ was guilty of ‘discrimination’ on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Passing the ruling, District Judge Isobel Brownlie said: "This is direct discrimination for which there is no justification. The defendants are not a religious organisation. They are a business for profit. There are no exceptions available.
"As much as I acknowledge their religious beliefs this is a business to provide service to all. The law says they must do that.”
The Judge said she recognised that the McArthur family, who owned the bakery, "hold genuine deeply held religious beliefs" but that "whilst defendants have right to religious beliefs they are limited as to how they manifest them."
Ashers Baking was asked to make a cake decorated with the slogan 'support gay marriage' but declined on the basis that to do so would compromise their Christian beliefs. LGBT activist Gareth Lee, who placed the order, also wanted a picture of Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie in an embrace, and a logo of the homosexual pressure group, QueerSpace, where he acted as a volunteer.
Management informed Mr Lee that the bakery, run by the McArthur family, would be unable to produce the cake on the basis of a conscientious objection and offered to give him a full refund.
But the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, a Government-run quango, launched a civil action against the bakery, claiming that it had discriminated against Mr Lee on the grounds of sexual orientation.
It alleged discrimination under two anti-discrimination statutes – The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006 and The Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998.
The bakery is being supported by the Christian Institute.
“Difficult and exhausting”
Speaking ahead of today’s judgment, Ashers’ General Manager Daniel McArthur had said: “Our faith is very important to us; it determines how we live, how we bring up our children, how we run our business, how we meet and how we engage with other people in society, so yes we can’t leave it out whenever we go to work in the morning.
“It’s been a difficult and exhausting time for us as a family but God has been faithful to us. And He has given us the strength to deal with this, and we know and trust in Him that going forward He will continue to give us His strength.”
Responding to the ruling, Andrea Williams of Christian Concern said: “This judgment undermines religious freedom in Northern Ireland. Freedom means the freedom to both agree and disagree. The McArthur family did not refuse to bake the cake on the basis of the customer’s sexual orientation – but rather because they felt they were unable to promote same-sex ‘marriage’. The family would have been prepared to bake any other cake for the customer that did not violate their Christian faith.
“People should be free to run their business in accordance with their ethos. The Christian faith of the McArthur family is intrinsic to their life; their identity as a family and as individuals. Their faith cannot be ‘switched off’ as the judge and Equality Commission seem to think is possible. The freedom to live as Christians is recognised by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights which provides strong protections for freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”