Ashers bakery appeal to be heard next year

Ashers Bakery
Ashers Bakery

A Christian-run bakery’s appeal against being found to have discriminated against a gay customer is to be heard next year.

Senior judges in Belfast today listed Ashers challenge to the ruling for a two-day hearing due to get underway on February 3.

The company is seeking to overturn a verdict reached over its refusal to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan.

Earlier this year Belfast County Court held that Ashers had discriminated against customer Gareth Lee on grounds of sexual orientation and political beliefs.

The firm, run by the McArthur family, was ordered to pay £500 in damages to the gay rights activist.

Backed by the Equality Commission, Mr Lee sued the Co Antrim-based bakery after it refused an order placed at its Belfast city centre shop in May 2014.

He was seeking a cake depicting Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie below the motto ‘Support Gay Marriage’ for an event to mark International Day Against Homophobia.

Bosses at the bakery refunded his money because the message went against their Christian faith.

During the original trial Ashers representatives insisted the problem was the cake, not the customer.

But Mr Lee claimed he was left feeling like a lesser person when his order was turned down.

Although the County Court judge accepted Ashers was entitled to have “genuine and deeply held” religious views, she said the business was not above the law.

Now, however, her ruling is to be examined by the Court of Appeal.

It will determine whether the judge was correct in law to hold that Ashers discriminated against Mr Lee on grounds of sexual orientation and religious belief or political opinion.

Lawyers for the McArthurs are also expected to argue that they had protection under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan today agreed to list the appeal for full hearing in February.