Nearly seventy per cent of people back the right of businesses like Ashers to decline an order which conflicts with its owner’s conscience.
A survey by Com Res found that 69 per cent of people believe businesses such as bakers and printers should not face legal action for following their beliefs.
It was commissioned by the Coalition for Marriage (C4M), after Ashers Baking Company lost its appeal against a ruling which said it had discriminated by declining to bake a cake with the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
The survey quizzed 2,000 British adults on different scenarios, and asked for each one whether the business owner should face legal action for following their beliefs.
Asked whether a bakery run by Christians, which refuses to bake a cake with the words ‘support gay marriage’ should be taken to court, 65 per cent said they should not be. Only 16 per cent thought they should be taken to court.
The study found a similar level of support for a Muslim printer who refuses to print cartoons of Mohammed; 68 per cent said they should not be sued, while only 11 per cent believed that they should.
‘Out of step’
Dr Sharon James, spokeswoman for C4M, said the survey demonstrates that the current law is “out of step with mainstream public opinion”.
“This survey is a real eye-opener. It shows that the majority of people believe that businessmen and women who hold religious or philosophical beliefs, should not face being sued for declining to provide services that promote the views of those they fundamentally disagree with.
“The fact that they are being sued – and losing – shows that laws protecting free speech and freedom of religion need to be reviewed. They are failing to protect people from legal action for simply holding traditional beliefs, or unconventional and challenging views.
“The law – or its interpretation – is out of step with mainstream public opinion, which embraces diversity, dissent and debate.”
Last month, Ashers Baking Company lost its appeal, after being taken to court by the taxpayer-funded Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI).
Despite acknowledging that the bakers were happy to sell their goods to anyone, and that they did not know or care that customer Gareth Lee was gay, the Court of Appeal ruled that they had “directly discriminated” against him, by declining to bake a pro same-sex marriage campaign cake.
Northern Ireland’s Attorney General, John Larkin QC, will visit the Court of Appeal in Belfast today, to ask that the case be referred to the UK Supreme Court. Mr Larkin is questioning the validity of the laws used against the bakery.