Ashers verdict ‘a black day for justice and religious liberty’

The Ashers bakery on Royal Avenue in Belfast city centre where the original cake order was taken
The Ashers bakery on Royal Avenue in Belfast city centre where the original cake order was taken

The ruling over the ‘gay cake’ discrimination case has been labelled “a black day for justice and religious liberty” by TUV leader Jim Allister.

The Christian owners of Belfast-based Ashers Baking Company refused an order placed by gay rights activist Gareth Lee, who wanted a cake bearing a slogan in support of same-sex marriage.

The McArthur family, which owns and runs the bakery, felt the message was inconsistent with their deeply held religious beliefs.

Last year, they were found to have breached equality legislation following a high-profile court case in Belfast.

On Monday, the discrimination ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeal.

Describing the judgment as “disappointing”, North Antrim MLA Mr Allister added: “This is an assault on freedom of conscience and as such it should worry Christians and non-Christians alike.

“The aggressive ‘gay rights’ lobby will see this as the green light to demand that everyone not only accepts but celebrates their lifestyle. I trust that every appeal opportunity will be taken.”

DUP MP Gregory Campbell expressed disappointment at the outcome of the appeal, describing it as a defeat for freedom of expression and freedom of conscience. He also said the ruling raises major challenges for the Equality Commission.

The East Londonderry representative added: “People do not need to share the McArthur family’s Christian faith to support the stance they have taken on this issue.

“No one needs to share their Christian faith to realise the ruling is a defeat for freedom of expression.

“As a result of this ruling will other commercial firms be forced to supply produce with political or religious slogans attached with which they profoundly disagree?”

However, Sinn Féin MLA Sean Lynch welcomed the judgment and called it a “victory for common sense and equality”.

The party’s equality spokesperson said: “The original decision was the correct one and I’m glad it has been upheld. This is the right decision and represents another step forward for equality.

“Equality must be paramount and all forms of discrimination must be challenged.”

Alliance MLA Stephen Farry said the ruling was welcome in clarifying the existing law and legal protections against discrimination.

He added: “In its judgment, the Court of Appeal is clear suppliers of services cannot distinguish on prohibited grounds between those who may or may not receive a service.

“The supplier can decide whether or not to provide a service, but in short they must apply to all or apply it to none.

“It is important people respect and acknowledge the views and beliefs of everyone in society, while recognising freedom of religion, as well as freedom from religion.

“For those who would advocate changes in the law, it is worth noting equality legislation is already finely balanced and provides for exemptions around ‘genuine occupational requirements’ or ‘genuine service requirements’. However, they are not relevant or appropriate in this case.

“I hope lessons are learnt following this case. Every person should be treated equally regarding provision of goods, facilities and services, irrespective of their background or beliefs. (This) ruling underlines that.”