The owners of Ashers Baking Company have confirmed that they will appeal against a court verdict which ruled they had discriminated against a gay customer for refusing to supply a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan.
Last week, Belfast County Court ordered Ashers to pay £500 damages after Judge Isobel Brownlie ruled they had “directly discriminated” against Gareth Lee, by refusing to fulfill his order for a cake bearing the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’ slogan on the grounds of their religious beliefs.
The McArthur family, who own and run Ashers, have now decided to challenge the ruling after consulting with their legal advisors.
In a statement, the family said: “After much careful and prayerful consideration given to legal advice, we have decided to appeal the judgement handed down last Tuesday.
“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.
“Our hope and prayer would be that an 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 case against the bakery was taken by the Equality Commission, while the McArthurs are being supported by The Christian Institute, which is funding their legal costs.
Simon Calvert of 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 added: “This court decision will have dramatic consequences if it stands.
“The people of Northern Ireland are very clear on this matter.
“A ComRes poll in March, 2015 found that 90 per cent of NI voters say equality laws ‘should be used to protect people from discrimination and not to force people to say something they oppose’.
“In the same poll, nearly four out of five (79 per cent) believe a Muslim printer should not be taken to court for refusing to print cartoons of Mohammed. And almost three-quarters (74 per cent) believe a printing company run by Roman Catholics should not be forced by legal action to produce adverts calling for abortion to be legalised.
“But this is what awaits us if this judgment is allowed to stand.”
The judgment has divided public opinion across Northern Ireland.
Ashers’ stance has been supported by former Stormont health Minister Edwin Poots and DUP Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan, who is seeking to introduce a ‘conscience clause’ into equality legislation.