On the last day of the Ashers Baking Company appeal hearing the McArthur family’s QC reiterated that their decision not to bake a cake with a pro same-sex marriage campaign slogan was due to the message on the cake, not the customer.
Representing Ashers, David Scoffield QC said that in last year’s ruling, County Court judge Isobel Brownlie seemed to think the McArthur family must have known customer Gareth Lee was gay because he supported same-sex marriage. However, he said, that was obviously a mistake.
The Court of Appeal judges said they would issue their ruling as soon as they can. This could mean weeks or possibly months.
Last year, judge Isobel Brownlie ruled that the McArthur family, who own and run Ashers, had broken discrimination law when they turned down an order from LGBT activist Gareth Lee.
Scoffield suggested that the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) is trying to make the case about Ashers discriminating on the basis of their own Christian beliefs.
If this were true, he argued, any actions motivated by one’s own beliefs – whether religious or non-religious – would be discriminatory.
Scoffield also stressed that being allowed to exercise your religion on a Sunday but not on a Monday is not protecting freedom of religion.
The Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin QC, also put forward brief concluding arguments.
He restated that free speech protections include protection from compelled speech, and that the McArthur family should not be forced to express a view they disagree with.
‘No one should be forced to be the mouthpiece for someone else’s views when they are opposed to their own – whether in print or in icing sugar.’
If this is what the law requires, he continued, it breaches Northern Ireland constitutional law.
Today’s proceedings mark the end of the four-day appeal hearing, with the McArthurs hoping last year’s decision against them will be overturned.
Yesterday, the ECNI was grilled by judges on different aspects of the case.
Under questioning from a panel of three judges, the ECNI’s QC Robin Allen admitted that there was no discussion between the McArthur family on the sexual orientation, beliefs or opinions of customer Gareth Lee.