Date set for Ashers Bakery gay marriage cake case

Ashers Baking Company general manager, Daniel McArthur
Ashers Baking Company general manager, Daniel McArthur

The legal test case against a Christian-owned bakery which refused to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan will be heard in court next month, it has been confirmed.

Newtownabbey firm Ashers Baking Company is defending the case which has been taken against it by the publicly-funded Equality Commission.

The quango wrote to the company last July to threaten legal action after it refused to make a cake with the words ‘Support gay marriage’. But it was only in November that the commission decided to press ahead with the case.

Now it has been confirmed that the case is listed to be heard on March 26 and 27.

The Christian Institute, a lobby group which is supporting the bakery, has embarked on a major fundraising initiative ahead of the court hearing.

The charity has taken out a full-page advert in today’s News Letter in which it appeals for support.

The Christian Institute is also holding a series of public meetings across Northern Ireland next week.

At two of those meetings — in Coleraine on Thursday and Belfast on Saturday — Ashers’ general manager, Daniel McArthur, will speak about the case.

Those meetings, and two others in Newry and Clogher Valley, will also hear from Hazelmary Bull, the Christian owner of a bed and breakfast found to have broken the law by refusing to allow a double bed for two men in a civil partnership.

Meanwhile, TUV leader Jim Allister has tabled Assembly questions about the funding of a gay rights organisation which is leading protests against proposed legislation brought forward in response to the Ashers case.

The Rainbow Project is today holding rallies in Belfast, Londonderry and Newry to protest against DUP MLA Paul Givan’s conscience clause bill.

Mr Givan has said that his private member’s bill would provide a “reasonable accommodation” between the rights of minorities and the rights of people of faith to abide by their religious beliefs.

The Rainbow Project has denounced the proposal as “a licence to discriminate”.

Mr Allister highlighted the fact that previous Assembly questions by him have established that the Rainbow Project receives around £6,000 a year from the Department of Social Development and around £32,000 a year from the Department of Health.

Mr Allister has now asked those departments’ DUP ministers if there are any conditions attached to the funding which would rule out the use of public money for political campaigning.

Mr Allister said that previous Assembly answers had shown “the extent of public funds provided by the DUP departments, DSD and DHSSPS, to LGBT groups, including The Rainbow Project, which is now spearheading public protests against the suggested conscience clause legislative protection”.