The owners of Ashers Baking Company have confirmed that they will appeal, after a court ruled last week that the firm had discriminated against a customer by refusing to decorate a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage.
Belfast County Court ordered Ashers to pay £500 damages for “injury to feelings” after Judge Isobel Brownlie ruled the customer had been treated “less favourably” and the bakery had breached political and sexual orientation discrimination regulations.
The McArthur family, who own and run Ashers, has decided to challenge the ruling after consulting with their legal advisors.
In a statement, the family said: “After much careful and prayerful consideration given to legal advice, we have decided to appeal the judgment handed down last Tuesday.
“We continue to insist that we have done nothing wrong as we have discriminated against no individual but rather acted according to what the Bible teaches regarding marriage.
“As many other people have already noted, Christian beliefs seem to have been trampled over in this judgment and we believe this only has negative effects for our society.
“Our hope and prayer would be that an appeal will allow us and other Christians to live out their faith in Jesus Christ in every part of their lives, including their workplace.”
The case followed a decision in May 2014 by Ashers to decline an order placed at its Belfast store. A gay rights activist had requested a cake featuring the Sesame Street puppets, Bert and Ernie, with the campaign slogan, ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
The customer also wanted the cake to feature the logo of Belfast-based campaign group QueerSpace.
Ashers, owned by Colin and Karen McArthur, refused to make the cake because it carried a message contrary to the family’s firmly-held Christian beliefs.
They were supported by their son Daniel, the General Manager of the company.
But the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI), which publicly backs same-sex marriage, launched a civil action against the family-run bakery.
It claimed the family’s actions violated equality laws in Northern Ireland.
The McArthurs are being supported by The Christian Institute which is funding their legal costs.
Simon Calvert of The Christian Institute said: “I believe that most people think that this is a ruling that should be overturned.
“There has been such extraordinary support from people from all walks of life who are appalled by what has happened to the McArthur family.
“There is huge public support for an appeal and it is vitally important that the higher courts consider this issue.”
He added: “This court decision will have dramatic consequences if it goes unchallenged.
“The leading human rights QC, Aidan O’Neill, has already spelled out what is possible as a result of the judge ruling against Ashers. Muslim printers could be sued for refusing to print cartoons of Mohammed, and a Christian film company could be sued for refusing to produce a pornographic film.”
Mr Calvert added: “The people of Northern Ireland are very clear on this matter. A ComRes poll in March 2015 found that 90 per cent of NI voters say equality laws ‘should be used to protect people from discrimination and not to force people to say something they oppose’.
“In the same poll, nearly four out of five (79 per cent) believe a Muslim printer should not be taken to court for refusing to print cartoons of Mohammed. And almost three quarters (74 per cent) believe a printing company run by Roman Catholics should not be forced by legal action to produce adverts calling for abortion to be legalised.
“But this is what awaits us if this judgment is allowed to stand.”