The owners of Ashers Baking Company have told of their deep disappointment after losing their high-profile court case and are considering an appeal.
Ashers Baking Company had been taken to court accused of breaking discrimination laws by declining to decorate a cake with the campaign slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
The case, brought by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) with £40,000 of public funds, has gone against Ashers after Judge Isobel Brownlie ruled in favour of the ECNI.
After the judgment was delivered, Ashers’ General Manager Daniel McArthur said: “We’re extremely disappointed with the judgment.
“We’ve said from the start that our issue was with the message on the cake, not the customer and we didn’t know what the sexual orientation of Mr Lee was, and it wasn’t relevant either. We’ve always been happy to serve any customers that come into our shops.
“The ruling suggests that all business owners will have to be willing to promote any cause or campaign no matter how much they disagree with it. Or as the Equality Commission has suggested, they should perhaps just close down, and that can’t be right.
“But we won’t be closing down, we certainly don’t think we’ve done anything wrong and we will be taking legal advice to consider our options for appeal.”
He added: “We have learned a lot and been contacted by Christians from all over the world and that has been a very rewarding bonus from this experience.
“The fact is that because of the case we have had more opportunities to talk about our Christian faith and the Lord Jesus Christ and for that we can be very thankful to God.
“The loss of the case and the possibility of a financial penalty is disappointing but that is a small burden to bear as the case has provided us with an opportunity through which we have been able to speak about our faith and our beliefs. And for that we give thanks to the Lord.”
Ashers Baking Company was supported by The Christian Institute which funded their defence.
The Institute’s Deputy Director Simon Calvert said: “We are extremely disappointed at today’s ruling against the McArthur family and Ashers Baking Company. It will also sadden all those who value freedom of conscience and freedom of speech.
“It has always been clear that the reason for declining the order was the message – not the customer. Ashers did not know the sexual orientation of Mr Lee and it is not relevant. The company is, and has always been, happy to serve everyone.
“Judge Brownlie recognised that there were competing rights in this case but has favoured sexual orientation over religious belief.
“We are equally baffled by the court’s decision to uphold the Equality Commission’s claim of political discrimination. This was a late addition to the case and the ruling suggests all business owners now have to be willing to promote any political cause or campaign, no matter how much they disagree with it, or – as the Equality Commission has suggested – close down.
“It appears that we are all now required by law to support same-sex marriage. What next? Will the Muslim printer now be obliged to print cartoons of Mohammed? Will the lesbian T-shirt printer now be forced to print T-shirts promoting traditional marriage? We should all consider the real concern and confusion that will result from this ruling.”
The case followed Ashers’ decision in May 2014 to decline an order from a gay rights activist for a cake with the campaign slogan, ‘Support Gay Marriage’ and the logo of a Belfast-based campaign group QueerSpace.
Ashers, owned by Daniel’s parents Colin and Karen McArthur, refused to make the cake because it carried a message contrary to the family’s firmly-held Christian beliefs.
But the ECNI launched a civil action against the family-run bakery, claiming its actions violated equality laws in Northern Ireland.
They alleged discrimination under two anti-discrimination statutes – The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006 and The Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998.
Daniel McArthur said: “Like so many others we just want to live and work in accordance with our religious beliefs. We know we took the right decision before God and we have no regrets about what we’ve done.
He talked about how their faith determines the whole of their lives. Daniel said, “we can’t leave it out whenever we go to work in the morning”.
Difficult and exhausting
He said God has been faithful to them, and he thanked the “thousands of people” who have supported and prayed for them.
“We’re very grateful and certainly your prayers would be much appreciated as we move forward.
“We also would like to thank The Christian Institute for their help during a difficult and exhausting time for us and our family.”
Freedom of speech
Mr Calvert of The Christian Institute added:”We will now sit down with the family and their lawyers and examine the options for an appeal”.
“This decision represents a serious blow against freedom of speech.”