A Northern Ireland equality watchdog has issued a new legal threat against a Christian-run bakery, claiming its refusal to produce a pro-gay marriage campaign cake breaches political discrimination laws.
In a 16-page letter dated 27 October, the taxpayer-funded Equality Commission for Northern Ireland demanded that Ashers Baking Company offer compensation within seven days, or face litigation.
The Christian Institute is supporting the McArthur family, who own and run the business, and says the Commission should not be wasting taxpayers’ money on its campaign against the family.
The Commission claims that the McArthurs discriminated against a customer on the ground of his political opinion when it declined to decorate a cake with the campaign slogan “Support Gay Marriage”.
But Daniel McArthur, manager of Ashers, said they will not be forced to promote a cause which goes against their conscientious view that marriage is between a man and a woman.
“We feel that the Equality Commission are pursuing us because of our beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman”.
“It feels like a David and Goliath battle because on one hand we have the Equality Commission who are a public body, they’re funded by taxpayers’ money, they have massive resources at their disposal whereas we are a small family business and we have limited resources at our disposal.
“We’re continuing to hold to the stand that we took originally because we believe it’s biblical, we believe it’s what God would want us to do, and we also think that if we do cave in to the Equality Commission at this point it’ll put pressure on other citizens who are defending their view of traditional marriage.”
“We don’t want to be forced to promote a cause which is against our biblical beliefs. We’ve had a lot of support from people who disagree with our stance on same-sex marriage. They think that we should have the freedom to decline an order that conflicts with our conscience.”
Simon Calvert, spokesman for The Christian Institute, said: “It is simply baffling for a body supposedly working for equality to be threatening a Christian family, all because of a cake.
“The Equality Commission has taken four months to dream up new grounds on which to pursue the McArthur family, claiming that they’ve breached political discrimination laws.
“Is the Commission seriously saying that all business owners have to be willing to promote every political cause or campaign, no matter how much they disagree with it? Does a printer have no right to refuse to print posters for the BNP or Islamic State?
“The Commission is throwing the kitchen sink at this case, and is wasting tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money in the process.
“I doubt that many people in Northern Ireland will think this is a good use of their hard-earned tax money. I hope they will make their views known to the Commission.
“The Christian Institute is committed to seeing this case through, and we applaud the McArthurs’ gracious and courageous stand.”
The latest letter from the Commission claims that the customer who ordered the gay marriage campaign cake, “suffered unlawful religious, political and sexual orientation discrimination”.
The Commission also says it is putting Ashers “formally on notice”. It states: “This letter therefore is to be understood as a letter of claim which, in the absence of both an immediate acknowledgment that there has been an unlawful breach of the equality laws set out above and an unconditional offer of adequate recompense to Mr Lee, will be followed by litigation.”
In September, the Belfast News Letter discovered that the Commission only took advice from a senior barrister after its original threat of legal action led to a global media outcry.
Responding to the Commission’s initial threat of legal action, Nigel Dodds OBE MP said this was another example of Christians being marginalised.
“There should be freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and this is basically making the case that Christians have no rights effectively and that has to be opposed”.
“There has to be a bit of common sense here”.