Northern Ireland’s First Minister has said that an equality watchdog’s decision to take a Christian bakery to court is “bonkers”.
The case of the McArthur family, who are facing legal action for refusing to decorate a pro-gay marriage campaign cake, has hit the headlines nationally and internationally and prompted fierce criticism from politicians and commentators.
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland served papers on the McArthur family on Thursday, claiming they breached sexual orientation and political opinion discrimination laws. The date of the court hearing is still to be set.
Speaking to the BBC, Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson said: “This kind of decision by the Equality Commission is bonkers.
“I think they really do need to wind their necks in at a time when we’re scraping around to get funding for essential services in Northern Ireland, they’re tossing it into the courts”, he added.
He also criticised the Commission in a piece for the Belfast News Letter.
“The pursuit of this company is unnecessary, discriminatory and wasteful of public money”, he said.
“The Equality Commission should reconsider its actions in this case. The pursuit of this company may be taken forward in the name of equality but it demonstrates an unhealthy and intolerant bias”, he added.
Unionist MLA Danny Kinahan, who voted in favour of redefining marriage in the Province, warned that the Commission “has lost the run of itself and is actually fuelling a divisive debate which, ironically, could lead to less equality, poorer community relations and more discrimination”.
And leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party Jim Allister MLA said there was a “genuine sense of outrage” about this case.
“This is a blatant attempt by the commission to push the boundaries of equality laws to the point where they coerce and suppress freedom of conscience. It is imperative that our courts resist such a monstrous development.
“What makes the offence all the greater is that this case is being brought by the Equality Commission, a public body which is funded by taxpayers through the Office of the Joint First Ministers”, he commented.
An employment law expert has also weighed in on the debate, saying that although he personally agrees with same-sex marriage the McArthurs’ actions do not amount to any form of discrimination.
Writing on his blog, Darren Newman noted that the customer in question was able to obtain the cake from a different baker, and so any disadvantage was “not that great”.
He also said there is “surely” a freedom of expression point in this case, as the baker was simply refusing “to make a product that expressed a political opinion he strongly disagreed with”.
The Christian Institute’s Legal Defence Fund is supporting the McArthur family’s legal case.