Belfast Telegraph

Ashers gay cake case: Key events in battle that's cost £200,000 in legal fees

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

May 9, 2014: Gareth Lee, a member of the Queerspace gay rights advocacy group, places order at Ashers Baking Company on Belfast's Royal Avenue for a cake to be decorated with slogan Support Gay Marriage alongside the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie. The order is accepted by Karen McArthur and payment of £36.50 is made in full.

May 11: Mr Lee is telephoned and told the order cannot be completed. He is offered full refund.

June 26: Northern Ireland Equality Commission writes to Ashers requesting that modest compensation be paid.

July 7: The Christian Institute says it will back Ashers after the company declines to settle case.

July 8: Alliance councillor Andrew Muir gives public support to the Equality Commission bringing the case. The cake was to be produced for an event which Mr Muir was hosting during his time as mayor of North Down.

October 24: Equality Commission writes again to Ashers and puts bakery officially "on notice" of impending court action.

November 13: DUP MPs William McCrea, Nigel Dodds and Sammy Wilson launch a petition in support of Ashers Bakery.

December 8: DUP MLA Paul Givan launches a private members' bill in the Assembly urging the introduction of a "conscience clause" into equality legislation.

March 13, 2015: DUP MEP Diane Dodds raises Ashers case in European Parliament.

March 24: Hundreds of Christians attend a Christian Institute rally at Belfast's Waterfront Hall in support of McArthur family.

March 26: Three-day civil suit opens at Belfast County Court before District Judge Isobel Brownlie. Mr Lee tells the court he felt like a lesser person when his order was declined.

March 27: In evidence Ms McArthur, an Ashers director, said she took the order to avoid a confrontation in the shop but as a born-again Christian "knew in her heart" it could not be completed. Her son, Daniel McArthur, the general manager, tells the court his family could not compromise their deeply held religious beliefs.

March 30: Judgment reserved.

May 19: District Judge Isobel Brownlie rules in favour of the Equality Commission. The judge finds Ashers acted unlawfully and directly discriminated against Mr Lee due to his sexual orientation and political beliefs. She said Mr Lee was treated "less favourably", contrary to the law. The company is ordered to pay agreed costs of £500.

May 23: The Republic of Ireland approves same-sex marriage following a referendum.

June 10: Ashers announces it is to appeal against the judgment.

June 13: Up to 2,000 people in Belfast city centre rally call for ban on gay marriage to be lifted.

November 2: For first time, the majority of MLAs at Stormont vote to change law on same-sex marriage; proposal falls when DUP deploys a "petition of concern" to block it. Gay rights campaigners hail it as a victory.

December 3: Two same-sex couples, Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles, and Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kanem, launch a landmark legal action in Belfast's High Court to judicially review the Assembly's refusal to legislate on same-sex marriage.

February 3, 2016: An appeal hearing is halted at last minute by Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin who advises Stormont ministers on legal issues.

March 3: Mr Larkin is allowed to make representations at the full appeal hearing.

May 9: Appeal in case of Gareth Lee v Ashers Baking Company opens before Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and two other top judges in Belfast's Royal Courts of Justice.

May 9: A lawyer for Ashers tells Court of Appeal the bakers believed it would be "sinful" to provide cake because the message was inconsistent with their deeply held religious beliefs.

May 10: Robin Allen QC, barrister for the Equality Commission argued in court that many businesses printed messages they did not associate with, citing posters for election candidates.

May 12: Attorney General John Larkin QC makes representations for first time to challenge the "coerced expression" argument. He called it a "very great wrong" to make someone say something conflicting with religious beliefs.

May 12: Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan reserves judgment and says he will deliver a verdict as soon as practical.

October 24: Ashers Baking Company return to hear the Appeal Court rule that their refusal to make a "gay cake" was discriminatory.

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