The Newtownabbey bakery facing court action over its refusal to make a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage has received widespread public backing for its stance.
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has initiated legal action against Ashers Baking Company after one of its Belfast outlets declined an order for a cake with an image of Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie below the motto ‘Support Gay Marriage.’
In the wake of its refusal to provide the service, the Equality Commission - a state-funded watchdog set up to ensure compliance with anti-discrimination laws - took on the case on behalf of the customer, a gay rights activist.
The bakery’s owners deny discriminating against the man, and say they declined to produce the cake as its pro-gay marriage slogan conflicts with their Christian beliefs.
General manager of the family-owned bakery, Daniel McArthur has since received a letter from the Commission claiming the firm’s stance breached discrimination laws.
Ashers was told that if it did not offer compensation within seven days it would face litigation.
That deadline has now passed, and the company is preparing for a court hearing.
Mr McArthur said his family would not be forced to promote a cause that goes against their Christian belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.
“We’re continuing to hold to the stand that we took originally because we believe it’s biblical, we believe it’s what God would want us to do, and we also think that if we do cave in to the Equality Commission at this point it’ll put pressure on other citizens who are defending their view of traditional marriage,” he said.
“We don’t want to be forced to promote a cause which is against our biblical beliefs. We’ve had a lot of support from people who disagree with our stance on same-sex marriage. They think that we should have the freedom to decline an order that conflicts with our conscience.”
The McArthur family are being backed by the Christian Institute, which has accused the Equality Commission of “wasting taxpayers’ money.”
Ashers, which employs around 60 people, has had widespread public support for its stance and refusal to back down in the face of legal threats.
Several of the main churches have already spoken out in support of the McArthur family, arguing that the company’s decision to refuse the ‘gay cake’ order was a “matter of conscience.”
A number of local clergy have also voiced their backing for the McArthurs.
Rev Alan Millar, former Rector of St Comgall’s Church, Rathcoole, described the case as another example of the Christian faith coming under attack.
“The controversy over Ashers’ management refusing to make a cake that promotes gay marriage highlights how the ‘secularist’ agenda is operating an offensive campaign against Christian belief and faith,” he said.
Rev Brian McClung, minister of Newtownabbey Free Presbyterian Church, said that people must make a stand for their Christian principles.
“It seems somewhat ironic that the Equality Commission is pursuing the bakery for refusing to bake a cake supporting something that is presently unlawful in Northern Ireland. It will be interesting to see how that stands up in a court of law,” he commented.
Stressing that the Christian church is not anti-gay, Rev John Dickinson, minister of Carnmoney Presbyterian Church, said: “This issue is not just of concern to Christians, but also to Muslims and other religious groups.
“The issue at stake here is the issue of freedom of conscience. The cake was not baked because of the inscription which was requested, not because of the sexual orientation of the person ordering it.
“Freedom of conscience is a vital component of a liberal democracy, the basic tenets of which I still believe to be a good thing.”
Confirming that it has initiated a civil action against Ashers, a spokesman for the Equality Commission said that the case “raises issues of public importance regarding the extent to which suppliers of goods and services can refuse service on grounds of sexual orientation, religious belief and political opinion.”
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