A bakery owned by a Christian family is facing legal action after it declined to make a cake printed with a message supporting gay marriage.
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The Equality Commission has told the owner of Asher’s Baking Company that it has broken the law by refusing to bake a cake for a member of a gay rights group.
Daniel McArthur (24), general manager at the Newtownabbey company which has been running since 1992 and employs 62 people, said Asher’s had been founded by Christians, and the current directors are Christians.
“That means that we run our business according to Christian values and beliefs, according to what the Bible teaches. It means for example that we don’t open on Sundays, that we trade openly and honestly with people,” he said.
Mr McArthur said even the company’s name was Biblical, as Asher was one of the 12 tribes of Israel. “It was a tribe that had gifted bakers,” he added.
He said a customer had placed an order for a “celebration cake” at Asher’s Belfast bakery.
LGBT activist Gareth Lee had asked for the cake to include a slogan that said ‘support gay marriage’ along with a picture of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street, and the logo of the Queerspace organisation.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where gay marriage has not been legalised.
The order was taken on a Friday and referred to the company directors.
“We thought that this order was at odds with our beliefs. It certainly was in contradiction of what the Bible teaches,” Mr McArthur said. “I feel if we don’t take a stand with this case, then how can we stand up against it further down the line?”
The customer was informed that the order could not be taken on the Monday. Mr Lee was given a refund, but a few weeks later, Asher’s received a letter from the Equality Commission accusing it of discriminating against Mr Lee on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The letter asked the company to propose how it intended to remedy the situation and said it would pursue legal action if there was no response within seven days.
Mr McArthur contacted the Christian Institute for legal support. Its director, Colin Hart, said: “All the McArthurs want is to run their bakery according to their Christian beliefs. There won’t be many situations where they need to turn down an order but this is obviously one of them. No-one should be forced to use their creative skills to promote a cause which goes against their consciences.“
Mr Lee could not be immediately contacted.