The Ashers Baking Company case is to go before judges at the highest court in the United Kingdom.
The UK Supreme Court has listed a hearing to consider a possible appeal by the Belfast-based bakers, over their refusal to bake a cake bearing the campaign slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
The Christian-owned company, operated by the McArthur family, has been dragged through the courts in Northern Ireland for more than two years by the country’s state-funded equality watchdog, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI).
After an estimated £200,000 in legal bills were incurred by Ashers, the company was ordered to pay £500 damages to gay rights activist Gareth Lee, who tried to order the cake which would have cost a mere £36.50.
However, in December 2016 the Court of Appeal in Belfast – which rubber-stamped the original County Court judgment – left the way open for the firm to take the matter further when Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan stated: “We consider the matter should be properly left to the Supreme Court.”
Now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear legal arguments at a hearing scheduled to take place over two days in October.
Last night Daniel McArthur, General Manager of Ashers, welcomed the decision, saying: “The fact that the Supreme Court is willing to hear arguments is very encouraging and reflects the importance of the issues and the high-profile nature of the case.”
The family has been supported throughout by The Christian Institute, which has funded their legal defence.
Deputy Director for Public Affairs at the Institute Simon Calvert said: “This is a very important development. The Supreme Court does not consider every case which is brought to its attention and our legal team has already started to prepare for the crucial hearings which lie ahead.
’Vitally important case’
“We understand the Supreme Court will hear initial arguments from which they will then determine if they are to grant a full appeal hearing.
“If the judges agree to the appeal it will take place immediately during the two days set aside for the case to be discussed.
He added: “This is a vitally important case. The ruling in the Belfast court undermines democratic freedom. It undermines religious freedom. It undermines free speech.”
It is understood the Supreme Court will also hear arguments from the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin QC, who entered the case and who has argued in relation to the validity of the laws that were used against the bakery.
Keep up to date
If you wish to show your support for the McArthur family, you can sign the Ashers petition here.
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