Hundreds of people in Northern Ireland turned out to ‘Stand with Ashers’ last night, ahead of the bakery’s appeal hearing tomorrow.
The last in a series of public meetings hosted by The Christian Institute in Northern Ireland was attended by 470 people, who heard about the need for the law to respect freedom of belief.
Almost 1,400 people in total came to the ‘Stand with Ashers’ events in Ballymena, Clogher Valley, Belfast, and lastly Craigavon, Co Armagh.
Fear of mistreatment
Simon Calvert, the Institute’s Deputy Director, told last night’s meeting that something has “gone wrong” when good people like the McArthurs are “hauled before the courts” just for holding the view that marriage is between one man and one woman.
“People must be free to manifest genuine, reasonable moral and religious convictions without fear of unfair discrimination and mistreatment.”
He added: “We all know that people who believe, as a matter of conviction, that real marriage can only take place between a man and a woman, will face unreasonable hostility and unfair treatment sometimes, in the workplace and elsewhere.
“Millions of ordinary people who do not agree with same-sex marriage face a kind of intimidation, and actually a real threat of legal action sometimes if they, in good conscience, decline to provide goods or services for campaigns they do not agree with or support.”
Mr Calvert highlighted cases such as that of Peter and Hazelmary Bull, who were sued for declining to provide a double bed for a gay couple.
“Whether it is a baker or a B&B, there ought to be room for their beliefs on the rare occasions when doing what the customer wants would force them into a genuine and serious moral compromise”, he commented.
“In those circumstances the law must respect their freedom of belief”.
A small number of homosexual rights supporters with placards and rainbow flags protested outside Craigavon Civic Centre during the meeting last night.
Ashers Baking Company goes before the Court of Appeal in Belfast for a two-day hearing tomorrow, in a bid to overturn a decision made last year which found they had broken political and sexual orientation discrimination laws.
The court ruled against Ashers, owned by Colin and Karen McArthur, for refusing to fulfil an order to make a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage because it conflicted with their Christian beliefs.
Yesterday it emerged that Peter Tatchell, a prominent campaigner on homosexuality and free speech, has changed his mind about the case and now disagrees with the ruling against the bakery.
He warned that it sets a “worrying precedent” and is an “infringement of freedom to require businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object”.