Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Gay marriage cake row: Stand firm, gay rights storm Christian B&B proprietors urge bakery

Gareth Lee during a gay rights parade

A Christian B&B owner who lost a landmark legal case after turning away a homosexual couple has backed the Northern Ireland bakery at the centre of another gay rights row.

Ashers Baking Company is facing legal action after it refused a customer's request to bake a cake with a slogan which supported gay marriage.

The cake, depicting Sesame Street pair Bert and Ernie, was ordered by gay activist Gareth Lee and intended for an ex-mayor's anti-homophobia event.

But the bakery, which is run by devout Christians, refused to handle the order.

The firm's general manager Daniel McArthur said his company would not be baking the cake under any circumstances, insisting Christians should be allowed to apply their beliefs to the running of their businesses.

The Newtownabbey-based company could face legal action from the Equality Commission.

However, Ashers' stance has been backed by an English couple who faced a similar legal threat after refusing to allow a gay couple to stay at their B&B.

Hazelmary and Peter Bull made headlines around the world after banning civil partners Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall from a double room at Chymorvah House in Cornwall in 2008.

The case went all the way to the UK Supreme Court, which ruled against Mr and Mrs Bull last November. Last night Mrs Bull said she was disappointed but not surprised that the controversy had erupted again.

"If I was in their situation I would take exactly the same road," she told the Belfast Telegraph. "As a Christian there isn't any choice.

"Your faith isn't worth anything unless when it's tested it stands firm. I don't think we could cater for a homosexual wedding reception, so the principle is the same and I do support them."

Mrs Bull said she intended to write to Ashers bakery offering her support. "We got such encouragement from the letters sent to us.

"We know where they are standing and it can be worrying, because we almost lost everything."

The latest clash began in May when Mr Lee, from the QueerSpace pressure group, ordered a cake with the words 'support gay marriage' and featuring Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street.

The order was accepted by staff at the Belfast city centre branch but, when the owners of the family-run company, Colin and Karen McArthur, and their son Daniel learned of the order they rejected it because they said it was contrary to their beliefs.

Daniel McArthur said Mr Lee was offered a full refund, which was collected, then six weeks later the firm received a letter from the Equality Commission, alleging it had discriminated against Mr Lee on the grounds of his sexual orientation.

Mr McArthur said he was "very surprised" by the watchdog's letter and his firm asked the Christian Institute for advice on how to deal with the case. "I feel if we don't take a stand on this case, then how can we stand up against it, further down the line?" he said.

"I would like the outcome of this to be that, any Christians running a business could be allowed to follow their Christian beliefs and principles in the day-to-day running of their business and that they are allowed to make decisions based on that."

However, Alliance councillor Andrew Muir – who hosted the civic event for which the cake was ordered – said he supported the action taken against the bakery.

The openly gay councillor said: "Businesses should not be able to pick and choose who they serve.

"There would not be any debate if the cake had depicted an anti-racism or anti-ageism slogan, nor should it require intervention from the Equality Commission for this cake for Anti-Homophobia Day.

"It is ridiculous for this bakery to suggest that they would have to endorse the campaign."

Mr Lee declined to comment when contacted yesterday.

Further reading

Gay marriage cake row: 'Bert and Ernie' cake was for ex-mayor's anti-homophobia event

Asher’s Baking Company faces court for refusing order for gay marriage cake 

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