If the Equality Commission wants to clarify the law surrounding a bakery’s refusal to make a pro-gay marriage cake, it should fund both sides of the case, a DUP MP has said.
William McCrea, in whose South Antrim constituency Ashers Baking Company is based, said that a poll which showed that only 25 per cent of the public in Great Britain support the commission’s actions demonstrated that the quango was “on the wrong side of the arguments and the wrong side of public opinion”.
As reported by the News Letter on Tuesday, the YouGov poll of more than 2,000 adults across England, Scotland and Wales found that almost two thirds (65 per cent) of those surveyed objected to the bakery being taken to court for refusing to put the slogan ‘Support gay marriage’ on a cake ordered by a gay rights activist.
The Rev McCrea said: “The arguments put forward by the Equality Commission in this case do not hold water.
“Having issued threatening letters before even seeking advice from a senior barrister, the commission has now widened the alleged discrimination beyond that which they initially claimed.
“The commission is very clearly out of step with public opinion. Two-thirds of people in GB surveyed were opposed to the legal action. I have no doubt this figure would be even higher within Northern Ireland.
“This is not a case of discrimination, but one where the owners of the company have deeply held Christian beliefs and feel they must act in line with their conscience.”
The DUP MP added: “This is not a fair case as one side is a publicly funded organisation whilst the other is a small family business ... if this case was to be fair and about clarifying the law, then the Equality Commission should be funding both sides of the case.”
East Antrim UUP MLA Roy Beggs said that the implications of the case went far beyond whether bakeries had to make pro-gay marriage cakes and could have “adverse implications for freedom of expression affecting wider society and the ability of those of faith to operate their business”.
He added: “No one should be refused the right to purchase an item on display in a retail property, such as a cake. But the sale of a plain cake was not refused in this case and it would clearly be wrong to do so ... this case is more complicated as it is about requiring a creative person to design and make a bespoke item which they might disapprove of.
“It could have implications for artists, writers, sign makers, film makers.
“This is an important issue for everyone in terms of civil liberty, not just cake makers or the gay community.”