During day three of the Ashers Baking Company appeal hearing the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) was grilled by judges on different aspects of the case.
Under questioning from a panel of three judges, the ECNI’s QC Robin Allen admitted that there was no discussion between the McArthur family on the sexual orientation, beliefs or opinions of customer Gareth Lee.
The taxpayer-funded ECNI took Ashers to court on behalf of Mr Lee after they declined to bake a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage.
In May last year, County Court judge Isobel Brownlie ruled that the owners of Ashers, the McArthur family, broke discrimination law when they refused Mr Lee’s request.
In court today, Allen compared the way Gareth Lee was treated to race discrimination – though he was at pains to say he was not likening the family’s views to racism. But Lord Justice Weir pointed out that Mr Lee had bought cakes from Ashers several times before.
Lord Weir then suggested that the focus of Karen McArthur’s concern when she was asked to make the cake was the message, not the customer’s sexual orientation.
In response, Allen suggested that refusal to promote a campaign for same-sex marriage is itself discrimination against gay people.
Later in proceedings, Allen was asked if the ECNI think refusing to produce a cake supporting abortion on demand would amount to gender discrimination.
Yesterday, the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin QC, gave reasons for his dramatic intervention in the Ashers case.
This week’s appeal was originally scheduled for February, but was delayed when Mr Larkin questioned the constitutional validity of the regulations on which the case against Ashers is based.
Mr Larkin told judges at the Court of Appeal in Belfast that the Ashers case is about “expression” not discrimination. Read more about his intervention here. The court resumes tomorrow for the final day of proceedings.
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