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Ashers gay cake appeal: McArthur family feel 'victimised' by Equality Commission

By Claire Williamson

Christian bakers who lost their court appeal over a ruling that found their company discriminated against a gay man have said they feel "victimised" by Northern Ireland's Equality Commission.

Directors at Ashers Bakery were hoping to overturn a court judgment which found they acted unlawfully by rejecting an order placed by gay rights campaigner Gareth Lee in 2014.

The court ruled against Ashers, run by the McArthur family, for refusing to fulfil an order to make a £36.50 cake with the slogan because it conflicted with their Christian beliefs.

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The McArthur family insisted they did not know the sexual orientation of Mr Lee, an LGBT activist, when declining his order.

The family insist their problem was with the cake, not the customer. But Mr Lee claimed it made him feel a lesser person.

However, on Monday morning the Court of Appeal upheld the original decision that Ashers Bakery had "directly discriminated".

In delivering the appeal judgement, Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan rejected the argument that the bakery would be endorsing the slogan by baking the cake.

In an interview with Sky News the couple said they "never meant to cause any offence".

Daniel McArthur who runs Ashers Baking Company said: "We never meant to cause anyone any offence, but at the same time, as Christians, we've certainly felt victimised by the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland."

"We're disappointed with the way it went. They didn't consider how much our conscience affects us as Christians, in how we run our business, but we still believe that God is in control."

The couple said those who have been calling them "homophobic" don't "grasp" the argument.

"I think whenever we've been called those names, the people calling them maybe don't fully grasp the arguments and what's at stake", said Daniel.

"Or that as Christians, how our beliefs affect every part of our lives, including running our business, and the decisions that we make in our business."

Asked how the case had impacted their lives - Amy said the difficult time had strengthened their faith in God.

She said: "It's fair to say it's been a hard time, God has been our rock and really through our trust in him we've been able to be unshaken and unmoved by it.

"He's used this time to strengthen our faith in him and that's only been a good thing for us as individuals, for our marriage and for our family - we are thankful that he's used a very hard thing to bring about a lot of good in our lives."

Welcoming the ruling on Monday the Equality Commission said it raised issues of "public importance" and that it has "always been happy" to give advice to any businesses concerned.

Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission said: "The case raised 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.

He continued: “The answer is not to have the legislation changed and thereby remove the equality protection concerned. The answer is for the supplier of services to cease distinguishing, on prohibited grounds, between those who may or may not receive the service.

"In the present case the appellants may elect not to provide a service that involves any religious or political message. What they may not do is provide a service that only reflects their own political or religious belief in relation to sexual orientation.”

“We are pleased that the Appeal Judges have confirmed the legal position which underpins our advice to service providers and employers.

“That is, that businesses operating in the commercial sphere, providing services to the public, cannot discriminate against people on any of the grounds covered by anti-discrimination legislation governing the provision of goods, facilities and services to the public in Northern Ireland.

"The Commission has always been happy to give advice to any businesses concerned by these issues and has published guidance on the law as it affects service providers on our website.”

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