The first step has been taken in the legal appeal by Ashers Baking Company against last month’s court judgment.
The bakery’s legal team has lodged papers which formally begin the appeal process.
Witnesses will not have to give evidence again. In the papers filed earlier this week, Ashers’ lawyers said: “We have identified the broad points of law with which the applicant is dissatisfied.”
The case, which is being supported by The Christian Institute, centres on Ashers declining to decorate a cake with a pro-gay marriage campaign slogan.
The McArthur family, who own and run Ashers, have said they hope a successful appeal will allow “us and other Christians to live out their faith in Jesus Christ in every part of their lives, including their workplace”.
The original decision, at Belfast County Court, saw Judge Isobel Brownlie rule that the bakery had acted unlawfully. She ordered Ashers to pay £500 in damages.
The grounds for appeal include questioning whether the judge was correct in saying the bakery had discriminated on grounds of sexual orientation, religious belief or political opinion.
The family have consistently stated that they had no knowledge of the customer’s sexual orientation and that it would have had no relevance.
The appeal also questions whether the judge was right to refuse to grant the McArthur family’s belief protection under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute, said: “I believe that most people think that this is a ruling that should be overturned.
“There has been such extraordinary support from people from all walks of life who are appalled by what has happened to the McArthur family.
“There is huge public support for an appeal and it is vitally important that the higher courts consider this issue.”
He noted that a leading human rights QC, Aidan O’Neill, had listed possible repercussions that could result from a defeat for Ashers including a Muslim printer being sued for refusing to print cartoons of Mohammed.
Mr Calvert also highlighted a survey which showed that 90 per cent of Northern Ireland adults think equality laws “should be used to protect people from discrimination and not to force people to say something they oppose”.
In their statement last month, the McArthurs said: “We continue to insist that we have done nothing wrong as we have discriminated against no individual but rather acted according to what the Bible teaches regarding marriage.
“As many other people have already noted, Christian beliefs seem to have been trampled over in this judgment and we believe this only has negative effects for our society.”
The case against Ashers Baking Company was taken by the taxpayer-funded Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.