What a wonderful victory for Ashers Baking Company in the United Kingdom’s final court of appeal yesterday.
And what an unexpected triumph too.
The business, long run by a family who have committed Christian beliefs, had politely turned down a request to bake a cake with a message: ‘Support gay marriage’.
That message is one that is antithetical to their faith.
Yet that refusal began a saga that has now wound its way to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court.
Few observers expected anything other than a decision that endorsed the finding of the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal, which in turn had upheld a county court ruling against Ashers.
During this long-drawn out process there was much talk about employment orders and equality acts and sexual orientation regulations and convention articles and laws relating to provisions of goods. Almost everyone seemed to understand that, technically, Ashers had probably done something wrong by the letter of this blizzard of laws.
Yet at the same time, people across Northern Ireland and further afield grasped something fundamental about this case: that it was distasteful to force a business that acts in good faith to acquiesce in a message so alien to its founders’ values.
It is hard to envisage almost anyone in the ‘human rights’ or ‘equality’ worlds rushing to back a case against a small business run along similarly honest and hard-working lines by a devoutly Muslim family if it refused to bake a slogan that it deemed to be deeply offensive to adherents of Islam.
Then, to widespread surprise yesterday, the Supreme Court not only found in favour of Ashers, but did so unanimously.
The outcome is a tribute to the McArthur family, who own Ashers, and their quiet dignity and determination in defending the case and seeing it all the way through to vindication in the highest court. They have helped make legal history in a case that has clear ramifications for the right to conscience.