Gay rights group organises protest at meeting to support Ashers

Daniel McArthur of Ashers Baking Company with his wife Amy at Laganside courts in Belfast last year

Daniel McArthur of Ashers Baking Company with his wife Amy at Laganside courts in Belfast last year

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Gay rights activists have organised a protest outside Craigavon Civic Centre on Monday night (February 1) where a public meeting in support of Ashers Baking Company is taking place.

Ashers’ owners were found to have discriminated against a gay man by refusing to bake a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage.

The McArthur family, who own and run the business, said they could not fulfil the order because it conflicted with their Christian beliefs about marriage being between a man and a woman.

In May last year, a Belfast judge ordered the company - which is managed by Daniel McArthur - to pay £500 damages for treating the customer “less favourably” in breach of political and sexual orientation discrimination regulation.

An appeal against the court’s decision is listed for hearing this Wednesday and Thursday.

Tonight’s public meeting has been called to show the level of public support for the stance taken by the McArthur family. The bakery owners have been given financial backing by the Christian Institute in their court battle with the Northern Ireland Equality Commission.

Organisers of Monday night’s protest on behalf of the LGBT community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender), have those attending to bring placards and flags “to make more impact”.

A spokesperson said: “We are asking people to support the LGBT community to stand up for our rights and meet at 7.30pm at the civic centre entrance. We stress this will be a peaceful protest to express our opinions.”

Commenting on the appeal court hearing, Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute said: “We are looking forward to the opportunity to put forward the appeal and the very strong arguments which exist in this case.

“An awful lot of people feel that the county court ruling was simply mistaken.”

• The Christian Institute has launched a petition to support Ashers Baking Company ahead of the appeal hearing.

The petition, which can be signed at www.christian.org.uk/supportashers, states: “I support Ashers Baking Co and the McArthur family in their stand for freedom of speech and freedom of conscience.”

It first emerged in July 2014 that Ashers Baking Company had declined the order for the £36.50 cake placed by gay rights activist Gareth Lee. Mr Lee had requested the custom made cake - which would have said ‘support same sex marriage’ along with a picture of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street - on behalf of the Queerspace organisation.

When challenged by the NI Equality Commission over the alleged breach of discrimination legislation, the owners highlighted their “sincerely held beliefs,” and said the problem “was with the message not the customer”.

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