Veteran actor Sir Patrick Stewart has voiced his support for the position taken by Newtownabbey-based Ashers Baking Company in the ‘gay cake’ row.
Last month Belfast County Court ordered Ashers to pay £500 damages to customer Gareth Lee, a gay rights activist, after Judge Isobel Brownlie ruled that the company’s refusal to supply him with a cake carrying the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’ amounted to discrimination.
The owners of the company, the McArthur family, denied discriminating against Mr Lee on the grounds of his sexuality, saying they refused to fulfil the order as doing so would have gone against their Christian beliefs.
With the case having attracted media attention far beyond Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick was asked for his opinion during an interview for BBC’s Newsnight show.
Best known for his roles as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek and Professor Xavier in the X-Men films, Sir Patrick, also a renowned Shakespearean actor, told presenter Evan Davis: “I found myself on the side of the bakers.”
Davis interviewed the actor about his support for human rights as part of the Newsnight episode broadcast on BBC2 on Wednesday night, June 3. He asked him: “Who has the right there? The couple who say we want you to put ‘Yes to Gay Marriage’ on the cake, or the people who have to make the cake, who say we don’t want to put that on the cake?”
Sir Patrick, who is well known for his support for same-sex marriage, told Davis that he had picked a “deliciously difficult subject” because he supported the stance taken by the McArthurs.
Reflecting on the arguments made in court on behalf of the family, Sir Patrick said: “It was not because this was a gay couple that they objected; it was not because they were going to be celebrating some kind of marriage or agreement between them. It was the actual words on the cake that they objected to, because they found them offensive.
“And I would support their right to say ‘no this is personally offensive to my beliefs, I will not do it’. But I feel bad for them, that it cost them £600 or whatever.”
The McArthur family, who are being supported in their legal battle by The Christian Institute, announced last week that they intend to appeal against the court ruling.
The case has sparked much debate regarding issues around discrimination, the protection of rights to freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.