The family at the centre of the Ashers Baking Company case have suffered because of a false understanding of equality, the First Minister of Northern Ireland has said.
Arlene Foster spoke of her ‘enormous sympathy’ for the McArthur family as she criticised the taxpayer-funded Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI).
Ashers was taken to court by the ECNI and this week the Court of Appeal ruled that the company had discriminated against a customer when the bakery declined to decorate a cake with the words “Support Gay Marriage”.
Saying that the ECNI had not “covered themselves in glory”, Mrs Foster described the Commission’s actions as “quite troubling”.
And highlighting concerns from the Court of Appeal about the ECNI, she said: “I think they need to have a long hard look at how they work with faith communities in Northern Ireland”.
Instead of “accepting the metropolitan liberal elite definition of equality they need to look at what real equality is and look at the faith communities in Northern Ireland and that is something they haven’t been doing”, she added.
The First Minister and leader of the DUP also spoke out about marriage, making clear her Party’s ongoing opposition to redefining marriage and its continued willingness to participate in a “petition of concern”.
MLAs in Northern Ireland’s Stormont Assembly have debated and voted on same-sex marriage five times in recent years. The law in Northern Ireland remains clear that marriage is between one man and one woman.
The most recent vote, in November, was blocked by a petition of concern – which requires a majority of MLAs from within both the unionist and nationalist communities to approve any change.
In the vote, 51 Unionists voted against same-sex marriage, including Mrs Foster.
Mrs Foster said she and her Party felt very strongly about marriage and any attempts to redefine it.
She explained that those who believed the Party were ‘anti-gay’ were wrong and “they need to understand why we take those positions from a faith point of view and why we want to protect the definition of marriage”.
Mrs Foster also noted that she had received some “very, very vicious” abuse online about her position.