The Christian Institute – the body backing Ashers in the so-called ‘gay cake’ case – says it is “praying for a just outcome” from the UK’s highest court.
The Supreme Court this morning is due to announce its decision on Ashers Baking Company’s appeal against an earlier court ruling that it discriminated against customer Gareth Lee by refusing his order to produce a cake carrying the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
The McArthur family, who own and run the Newtownabbey-based bakery business, say they turned down the order because it conflicted with their Christian belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Mr Lee, who was backed in his complaint against Ashers by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, was awarded damages of £500 in May 2015 when a district judge ruled that Ashers broke sexual orientation and political discrimination laws.
The family appealed that judgment, and at a Court of Appeal hearing in October 2016 judges recognised the fact that the family did not decline the order because Mr Lee was gay, but nonetheless ruled that refusing to produce the cake because of the slogan “was direct discrimination”.
The McArthurs, supported by the Christian Institute, are now hoping the Supreme Court will uphold their appeal.
Speaking to the News Letter, Simon Calvert, the Christian Institute’s deputy director of public affairs, said: “We are praying for a just outcome in this case.”
Mr Calvert insisted that if Ashers lose their long and costly legal battle, it will represent a very real risk to free speech.
“People from all walks of life support Ashers because they recognise their own freedom could be infringed in the same way,” he said.
“Ashers is a family business where the owners are closely involved in the work. They should not be forced to use their time, energy and skills to help campaign against their own deeply held beliefs. Nor should anyone else.”
Daniel McArthur, general manager of Ashers, will be at the Supreme Court sitting in London, accompanied by representatives of the Christian Institute.
Mr Lee is also expected to be in attendance, as is the Equality Commission’s chief commissioner, Dr Michael Wardlow.
The court is due to hand down its judgment at 9.45am.