The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland’s court action against a Christian-run bakery began in Belfast County Court this morning.
Legal proceedings have been taken against the McArthur family, who own and run Ashers Baking Company, for declining to decorate a pro-gay marriage campaign cake last year.
Speaking outside the court this morning, Ashers General Manager Daniel McArthur said: “Ashers Baking Company is, and always has been, willing to serve any and every customer who comes through our doors.”
“Our problem with producing the cake we were asked to make last year was with the message not the customer.
“We just didn’t want to be forced to use our creative skills to help endorse and promote a campaign message that went against our sincerely held religious beliefs.
“We are just trying to be faithful to the Bible.
Freedom of expression
“We think it is wrong to use the laws to force anyone to say something that they oppose and hope that the court will take the same view.
“There are obviously big issues at stake, not just for us, about things like freedom of conscience and freedom of expression.”
“We don’t know what the outcome of the case will be but we do know that God is faithful and we place our trust in him”, he concluded.
The Commission claims that Ashers broke discrimination laws, but the bakery were unaware of the sexual orientation of the customer – they simply did not want to endorse a message with which they disagreed.
The Christian Institute’s Legal Defence Fund is backing the McArthurs’ case.
The case is to be heard today and tomorrow, and a judgment is not expected for a number of weeks.
Ahead of the hearing, over 2,000 people squeezed into the Waterfront Hall in Belfast for an event in support of Ashers.
Hundreds who were unable to get into the venue stood outside and sang hymns in the cold.
The main hall with a capacity of over 2,000 seats was full, and more than a hundred fitted into an overflow room with a live audio feed.
The Belfast Newsletter reported comments from an eyewitness who passed the hundreds of people singing outside the Waterfront last night: “They were a very sincere bunch. It was quite moving to see. There was no sense of aggression, just a real feeling of solidarity.”
The rally featured Ashers General Manager Daniel McArthur, who said this is a stressful time, but that all their fears and worries find answers in the Bible. He asked for prayer for a just outcome for the family – and for Christian businesses around the country.
Christian B&B owner Hazelmary Bull also shared her story of being sued by a gay couple over their married couples-only double bed policy.