A call has been made in Parliament for a change in the law to protect religious freedom after a Belfast bakery faced a threat of legal action over its gay marriage stance.
Gregory Campbell suggested there is a need for a “conscience clause” to be inserted into equality regulations, after family firm Ashers was accused of acting unlawful by the Equality Commission by refusing to bake a cake bearing the slogan “Support gay marriage”.
Outside the bakery itself yesterday morning, it appeared the business had actually garnered some extra trade as a result of the furore.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Campbell, DUP MP for East Londonderry, said the firm had been tasked with printing a “political message” which was “completely at variance with the company’s Christian values”.
He said: “Does the Prime Minister agree that so-called equality is now being viewed by many as an oppressive threat to religious freedom, and that such freedoms should be protected by the introduction of a conscience clause?”
David Cameron replied that he had not heard of the case, but would take a look at it, adding: “However, I think that a commitment to equality... is a very important part of being British”.
Mr Campbell afterwards said it was “disappointing that the Prime Minister would not comment on the need for religious freedom to be protected through the introduction of a conscience clause”, adding that “tolerance needs to be a two-way street”.
Yesterday, the News Letter visited the branch in question on Royal Avenue, and asked customers their views.
A number of those spoken to said they had come along specifically to show support for the bakery’s stance.
Robert Smyth, 81, pledged to purchase from them in future, saying: “I didn’t even know where they were. I didn’t know anything about them. But now that I do know, I will support them”.
Others also came forward to say that they had been praying over the issue – while one questioned why the issue was even making the news when there is so much death and destruction in the world (see right).
A number of those spoken to did not want to take part in a full interview. However, one woman said in passing that although she disagreed with the bakery’s stance, it sold very nice buns, and she would not be boycotting it.
The Equality Commission said yesterday there was no change to its position, and that it is waiting for a response from the bakery before deciding how to proceed.
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