Ashers Baking Company deeply disappointed after losing ‘gay cake’ case – family consider appeal
The bakery owners at the centre of the controversial ‘gay cake’ case have told of their deep disappointment after losing their high-profile court action and are considering an appeal.
Ashers Baking Company had been taken to court accused of political and sexual orientation discrimination for refusing to make a cake with the campaign slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
The case, brought by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) with £40,000 of public funds, has gone against Ashers after Judge Isobel Brownlie ruled in favour of the ECNI.
After the judgment was delivered Ashers’ General Manager Daniel McArthur said: “We’re extremely disappointed with the judgment. We’ve said from the start that our issue was with the message on the cake, not the customer and we didn’t know what the sexual orientation of Mr Lee was, and it wasn’t relevant either. We’ve always been happy to serve any customers that come into our shops.
“The ruling suggests that all business owners will have to be willing to promote any cause or campaign no matter how much they disagree with it. Or as the Equality Commission has suggested, they should perhaps just close down, and that can’t be right.
“But we won’t be closing down, we certainly don’t think we’ve done anything wrong and we will be taking legal advice to consider our options for appeal.”
He added: “We have learned a lot and been contacted by Christians from all over the world and that has been a very rewarding bonus from this experience.
“The fact is that because of the case we have had more opportunities to talk about our Christian faith and the Lord Jesus Christ and for that we can be very thankful to God.
“The loss of the case and the possibility of a financial penalty is disappointing but that is a small burden to bear as the case has provided us with an opportunity through which we have been able to speak about our faith and our beliefs. And for that we give thanks to the Lord.”
Ashers was supported by The Christian Institute which funded their defence.
The Institute’s Deputy Director Simon Calvert said: “We are extremely disappointed at today’s ruling against the McArthur family and Ashers Baking Company. It will also sadden all those who value freedom of conscience and freedom of speech.
“The judge decided that the McArthur family knew Gareth Lee was gay, but it has always been clear that the reason for declining the order was the message – not the customer. Ashers did not know the sexual orientation of Mr Lee and it is not relevant. The company is, and has always been, happy to serve everyone.
“Judge Brownlie recognised that there were competing rights in this case but has favoured sexual orientation over religious belief.
“We are equally baffled by the court’s decision to uphold the Equality Commission’s claim of political discrimination. This was a late addition to the case and the ruling suggests all business owners now have to be willing to promote any political cause or campaign, no matter how much they disagree with it, or – as the Equality Commission has suggested – close down.
“It appears that we are all now required by law to support same-sex marriage. What next? Will the Muslim printer now be obliged to print cartoons of Mohammed? Will the lesbian T-shirt printer now be forced to print T-shirts promoting traditional marriage? We should all consider the real concern and confusion that will result from this ruling.”
The case followed a decision in May 2014 by Ashers to decline an order placed at its Belfast store by a gay rights activist asking for a £36.50 cake featuring the Sesame Street puppets, Bert and Ernie, with the campaign slogan, ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
The customer also wanted the cake to feature the logo of a Belfast-based campaign group QueerSpace.
Ashers, owned by Daniel’s parents Colin and Karen McArthur, refused to make the cake because it carried a message contrary to the family’s firmly-held Christian beliefs.
But the ECNI launched a civil action against the family-run bakery, claiming its actions violate equality laws in Northern Ireland and alleging discrimination under two anti-discrimination statutes – The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006 and The Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998.
The case raises key issues of public importance regarding the protection of rights to freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Daniel McArthur, who was accompanied by his wife Amy at the three day court hearing in March and again today as the judgment was read out, said: “Like so many others we just want to live and work in accordance with our religious beliefs. We know we took the right decision before God and we have no regrets about what we’ve done. God calls us to be faithful Christians, not only when things are going well but when people oppose us.
“Our faith is very important to us; it determines how we live, how we bring up our children, how we run our business, how we meet and how we engage with other people in society. So yes we can’t leave it out whenever we go to work in the morning.
“We do want to say thank you to the thousands of people who have supported and prayed for us, we’re very grateful and certainly your prayers would be much appreciated as we move forward.
“We also would like to thank The Christian Institute for their help during a difficult and exhausting time for us and our family, and we’re thankful to God as well who has been faithful to us through it, and we know that He’ll continue to help us bear this burden as we go forward in the future.”
Mr Calvert of The Christian Institute added: “The law against political discrimination was brought in for the specific political situation here in Northern Ireland – not to attack Christians living out faithful lives in their businesses.
“We will now sit down with the family and their lawyers and examine the options for an appeal”.
“The McArthurs, like countless other Christian business owners across the country, simply want to live and work in accordance with their religious beliefs. This decision represents a serious blow against freedom of speech.
“Finally, we would just wish to pay tribute to the thousands of people who have shown their support for Ashers throughout this thoroughly regrettable episode – the McArthur family is extremely grateful.
“And we want to recognise the hard work of Hewitt & Gilpin Solicitors, David Scoffield QC and barrister Sarah Crowther.”