The barrister representing Ashers Baking Company argued that the McArthur family’s actions did not amount to discrimination, as they returned to court today.
David Scoffield QC told judges at the Court of Appeal in Belfast that discrimination must be against “another person”, not an idea or an object: “To say you can discriminate against the orientation of a cake is nonsenical.”
Ashers will be in court over the next few days in a bid to overturn a decision last year by the County Court.
County Court judge Isobel Brownlie ruled that the owners of the bakery, the McArthur family, had broken discrimination law when they declined to bake a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage.
However, today their lawyer reiterated the fact that they had no idea of the sexual orientation of plaintiff Gareth Lee when he requested the order.
The McArthurs have repeatedly stressed that their objection was to the message on the cake, not the customer.
Scoffield told the court: “If a heterosexual person had asked for the same message on the cake they would have had the same response.”
He added that the County Court got it wrong last year when it ruled that ‘support for same-sex marriage was indissoluble from sexual orientation’.
The QC also warned that a ruling which says Ashers did discriminate would breach the McArthur family’s human rights.
He explained that under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), freedom of thought and religion are protected, including freedom to witness to your convictions and live them out.
Scoffield also noted that Article 10 of the ECHR contains free speech protections, which include the right not to impart information.
He said: ‘There is a right to remain silent. If that applies to not having to pass on information, how much more does it apply when someone is asked to create the message?’
Toward the end of proceedings, the Lord Chief Justice asked the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland – which is representing Gareth Lee – to explain how to balance the rights of Christians and homosexuals.
He asked how Christian business owners can protect themselves where issues about homosexuality or politics arise.
Speaking this morning, Ashers’ General Manager Daniel McArthur said: “This has never just been about one little bakery in Belfast. It’s clear that its always had implications for freedom of expression throughout the UK.”
A previous hearing scheduled for February was delayed following a last-minute intervention from the Attorney General – an indication of the legal significance of the case.
More than 17,000 people have signed The Christian Institute’s petition in support of the McArthur family.