A new opinion poll shows 'overwhelming public support' in mainland Britain for Ashers Baking Company over the controversial ‘gay cake’ case.
The survey of 2,000 adults has revealed almost two-thirds of voters – 65 per cent – back the Northern Ireland company which refused to bake a cake with the words 'support gay marriage’ inscribed on it.
Asked if Ashers should have been taken taken to court over the matter, more than six in 10 (65 per cent) said they should not, while just one in six (16 per cent) said they should.
The poll was carried out last month by the Coalition for Marriage in the wake of the decision by the Belfast Court of Appeal to reject an appeal by Ashers Baking Company.
The results mirror similar results of previous Northern Ireland-only polls which have consistently shown huge support for Ashers.
The family-run bakery was taken to court by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland after refusing to make a cake for a campaign group carrying a picture of the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage”.
READ MORE: Ashers verdict ‘a black day for justice and religious liberty’
Commenting on the results, Dr Sharon James, spokeswoman for Coalition for Marriage, said the poll showed that the current law is “out of step with mainstream public opinion”.
Dr James added: “This survey is a real eye-opener. It shows that the majority of people believe that businessmen and women who hold religious or philosophical beliefs should not face being sued for declining to provide services that promote the views of those they fundamentally disagree with.
“The fact that they are being sued – and losing – shows that laws protecting free speech and freedom of religion need to be reviewed. They are failing to protect people from legal action for simply holding traditional beliefs, or unconventional and challenging views. The law – or its interpretation – is out of step with mainstream public opinion, which embraces diversity, dissent and debate.”
READ MORE: Ashers family talk to lawyers over appeal options
The survey, carried out by ComRes, asked 2,000 British adults about eight possible scenarios and whether for each one they thought the business owner should face legal action for following their beliefs.
The results found that business owners and shopkeepers who decline orders on conscience grounds should not face legal action.
The poll found that almost seven in 10 (69 per cent) of those who responded believe that businesses such as bakers and printers should be able to decline customer requests that conflict with their consciences.
Asked about a Muslim printer who refuses to print cartoons of Mohammed, just one in 10 (11 per cent) said they should face court action, with almost seven in 10 (68 per cent) saying they should not.
The poll found similar support for the hypothetical case of an environmentalist consultant refusing to work for a fracking company; just nine per cent said they should face legal action while 70 per cent said they should not.
In the case of Ashers, the Court of Appeal, while acknowledging that the bakers were happy to sell their goods to anyone and did not know or care that the customer was gay, nevertheless dismissed their appeal, saying that the bakers did not have the right to withhold a service from a campaign even if it went against their beliefs.
C4M has repeatedly warned that more needs to be done to protect free speech on traditional marriage .