The Christian bakers who are facing legal action for declining to decorate a pro-gay marriage campaign cake acted against the law, a new minister at the Northern Ireland Office has suggested.
MP Andrew Murrison said that businesses should “comply with the law” which “prevents discrimination against gay people”.
But Ashers Baking Company say their actions had nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the customer who placed the order.
The McArthur family, who own the bakery, refused to produce a cake featuring the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” because of their Christian beliefs.
They have been threatened with legal action by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which claimed they breached discrimination laws.
Speaking about the case to the Belfast Newsletter, Murrison said: “I think if you’re opening your premises for business you have to comply with the discrimination legislation.
“So, whilst I can understand the disquietude of the small business concerned, since they are I understand people of deep religious conviction, I have to say that in terms of running their business they have to comply with the law and the law, I think rightly, prevents discrimination against gay people.”
Murrison said he voted in favour of same-sex marriage because he was given a “reassurance” that churchmen and churches would not be obliged to “do things which their consciences told them they really could not”.
The Christian Institute is supporting the McArthurs’ legal case.
Simon Calvert, spokesman for the Institute, said: “It’s very disappointing that Mr Murrison has chosen to intervene in this way.
“He appears to be pre-judging the issue and pronouncing Ashers’ guilt without apparently being fully aware of the facts and the law.
“Ashers did not turn away a customer, they simply refused to take part in a PR campaign for gay marriage because it went against their religious conscience.
“The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland recognise this distinction, indeed Ashers have been overwhelmed with public support.
“It’s just a shame the minister didn’t take time to find out what was really going on.”
The Northern Ireland Office is a ministerial department which represents both the interests of the Province at Westminster, and the interests of the UK Government in Northern Ireland.