Ashers prepare for Supreme Court appeal bid

Ashers Baking Company has confirmed that it will launch an appeal to the UK Supreme Court, following the Belfast Court of Appeal’s ruling against them earlier in the year.

Lawyers representing the McArthur family, who own and run Ashers, and the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin QC, had separately asked judges whether they had leave to appeal.

Mr Larkin was refused the right to refer the case based on devolution issues, but Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan left the way open for Ashers to take the matter further saying “the matter should be properly left to the Supreme Court”.

‘Instigating an appeal’

Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute, Simon Calvert, said: “Ashers Baking Company will take the necessary legal steps to instigate a Supreme Court appeal on this crucially important matter as soon as possible and papers must be lodged early in the New Year.”

The Ashers case made waves when it first hit the headlines in 2014. In 2015, a ruling by the County Court in Belfast claimed that the firm had discriminated by declining to ice a cake with the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’ for customer Gareth Lee.

The family appealed, arguing that they should not be forced to endorse a message which goes against their firmly-held Christian beliefs. They said they did not know Mr Lee was gay and that their issue was with the message on the cake, not the customer.

Wide support

Judges at the Court of Appeal agreed that the McArthurs did not know the sexuality of Mr Lee but nevertheless upheld the County Court decision, ruling that refusing the order because of its slogan “was direct discrimination”.

But despite losing the appeal, Ashers won decisively in the court of public opinion, as commentators across the political and social spectrum voiced support.

Both The Telegraph and The Guardian issued editorials backing Ashers. The Telegraph said the court was wrong to rule that “icing the cake did not mean the bakers agreed with the message”, and joined the McArthurs in calling for a change in the law.

Free speech concerns

A Guardian editorial said the ruling “cannot be welcomed by anyone who cares about free speech”.

And homosexual rights and free speech campaigner Peter Tatchell called the verdict a “defeat for freedom of expression”.

He said, “in a democratic society, people should be able to discriminate against ideas they disagree with. I am saddened that the court did not reach the same conclusion”.