David Cameron failed to back religious tolerance and equality when asked about the recent case of a Christian bakery facing legal action for declining to produce a pro-gay marriage cake.
The family-run Ashers Baking Company was told by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland that they had breached equality laws which outlaw discrimination in the provision of goods and services.
DUP MP Gregory Campbell asked during Prime Minister’s Questions: “Does the Prime Minister agree that so-called equality is now being viewed by many as an oppressive threat to religious freedom, and does he further agree that such freedoms should be protected by the introduction of a conscience clause?”
In response, David Cameron said he was unaware of the Ashers case.
He said: “But I do think a commitment to equality in terms of racial equality, in terms of equality to those of different sexes, equality in terms of people who have disabilities or indeed tolerance and equality of people with different sexualities, all of that is a very important part of being British.”
Under the Equality Act 2010, religion is one of nine protected characteristics, which include age, race, disability and sexual orientation.
Former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe has criticised the Equality Commission’s threat of legal action against the bakery, saying that in a “true democracy” people should not be forced to affirm something they don’t believe.
She said: “In a free country the baker should be able to refuse to take part in what is effectively PR for gay marriage in the knowledge that any customers who do not like that decision are free to buy their morning loaf elsewhere.”
Ashers Baking Company in Northern Ireland hit the headlines this week after its Christian owners, the McArthur family, took their stand.
The manager of the business, Daniel McArthur, said they are happy to bake cakes for anyone, but could not fulfil that particular order as it clashed with the ethos of the business.
He said: “We are Christians and our Christianity reaches to every point of our lives, whether that’s at home or in the day-to-day running of the business.”