A Christian-run bakery in Northern Ireland is facing legal action after it declined to produce a pro-gay marriage campaign cake.
The McArthur family, who own Ashers Baking Company in the Belfast area, said they could not fulfil the order because it conflicts with their Christian beliefs about marriage being between a man and a woman.
The Christian Institute is supporting the bakery, and says the case proves the need for the law to reasonably accommodate family-run businesses with firmly held beliefs.
In May, volunteer LGBT activist Gareth Lee asked for a cake to be decorated with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage”.
He also wanted a logo of his campaign group QueerSpace and a photo of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie in an embrace to be printed on the cake.
When the order came through to the head office, the manager and directors decided to decline the request on conscience grounds, and offered Mr Lee a full refund.
Despite the fact that the Northern Ireland Assembly recently voted against redefining marriage for the third time in two years, the taxpayer-funded Equality Commission for Northern Ireland sent a letter claiming that the bakery had acted unlawfully by refusing to decorate the cake with the slogan.
The Commission said the bakery had breached equality laws which outlaw discrimination in the provision of goods and services.
Online photographs of a QueerSpace event in May show that the group managed to get a cake decorated in the way they wanted from a different bakery.
The manager of the business, Daniel McArthur, said they are happy to bake cakes for anyone, but could not fulfil that particular order as it clashed with the ethos of the business.
“We are Christians and our Christianity reaches to every point of our lives, whether that’s at home or in the day-to-day running of the business.”
Explaining why they decided not to fulfil the order, he said: “We thought that this order was at odds with our beliefs, certainly was in contradiction with what the Bible teaches.”
“Although we have found this experience certainly unsettling and disruptive to our day-to-day business, we are certainly convinced that we have made the right decision, and we continue to take the stance that we do take”, he added.
The company was named after a verse from the Bible which says “Bread from Asher shall be rich and he shall yield royal dainties” (Genesis 49:20, NKJV).
The Christian Institute’s Legal Defence Fund is supporting Ashers Baking Company.
The Institute’s Director, Colin Hart, said: “This is a sign of things to come exactly as we predicted.
“The Government repeatedly failed to listen to members of the public, lawyers, constitutional experts even its own MPs when they called for safeguards to protect those who back traditional marriage, whether at work or in business.
“All the McArthurs want is to run their bakery according to their Christian beliefs. There won’t be many situations where they need to turn down an order but this is obviously one of them. No one should be forced to use their creative skills to promote a cause which goes against their consciences. Imbalanced equality laws are making it increasingly hard for people, especially Christians.
“Imagine the uproar if the Equality Commission said that an environmentally-conscious baker had to produce a cake saying “Support fracking”? Or if they threatened a feminist bakery for refusing to print a “Sharia for UK” cake?
“Millions of ordinary people who do not agree with gay marriage, face intimidation and the real threat of legal action from the forces of political correctness if they, out of conscience, decline to provide goods or services to campaign groups they do not agree with or support.
“It establishes a dangerous precedent about the power of the state over an individual or business to force them to go against their deeply held beliefs.”
Mr Hart concluded: “The Government must take urgent action to address this injustice by bringing in legislation that would introduce reasonable accommodation to protect those, who for religious or philosophical reasons, believe that marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman.”
The American Supreme Court recently ruled that family-run businesses in the US can operate according to their principles. The judgment in the case of Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned chain of arts and crafts stores, found that people do not lose their religious freedom just because they run a business.