Belfast Telegraph

Ashers gay cake case: Our reporter visited the nearby city centre bakery under siege from scores of hungry customers

As the Ashers court case drama played out in Laganside, Ivan Little visited the nearby city centre bakery under siege from scores of hungry customers.

The savvy saxophone player serenading lunchtime shoppers and office workers in Royal Avenue near Ashers bakery was taking no chances with his repertoire which had something for everyone no matter where they stood on the 'gay cake' controversy.

One minute he was playing Amazing Grace for anyone of a Christian bent, and the next he was launching into the famous instrumental break from Careless Whisper, the hit from gay icon George Michael.

Across the street, the four staff at the bakery had little time to appreciate his musicianship or to follow the regular updates on Twitter about the high profile court case involving their bosses less than a mile away in Oxford Street.

For the bakery where gay activist Gareth Lee ordered his contentious same-sex marriage cake last year was under virtual siege from scores of customers who were there to show their support for the McArthur family or simply to scoff their £2.20 tubs of vegetable soup, or their range of sandwiches and sausage rolls.

The bakery's employees declined to talk but Ashers regulars said they'd rarely seen the little bakery so busy, perhaps underscoring the old maxim that there's no such thing as bad publicity.

One woman was disappointed that the McArthurs didn't visit their Royal Avenue shop during a break from the proceedings at Laganside where they are being sued under discrimination laws by Mr Lee, backed by the Equality Commission.

A family sitting outside Ashers had travelled from Ballymoney with no other thought in mind than to support the McArthurs by having lunch in their coffee shop

"We live in a time where we have to stand up for what we believe," said a woman who would only give her name as Mary.

"Christians can't be persecuted any more. People like the McArthurs shouldn't be forced to do things they don't believe in. And making that cake would have been totally against their religious beliefs."

At the other outside table, however, an English couple weekending in Belfast were stunned when they discovered that they had just eaten at the very bakery that they'd been hearing about on the news.

"This is it, is it? If I had known that, I wouldn't have come," said Tom Ruse from Croydon, south London.

"I think it's out of order. You can't discriminate against homosexuality."

His girlfriend Laura Hogg from Dover agreed. She said: "It's ridiculous. If you are providing a customer service, that is what you have to give - a service to everyone."

Margaret Banford from Newtownabbey was no stranger to the bakery.

"I like to support the McArthurs whenever I can because of all that is happening in the court. And the bonus is that the food is lovely," she said.

Her sentiments were echoed by Sam McConkey from Ballynahinch. "I've been coming here even more regularly than before because I believe Ashers and other businesses should have the choice about what they do and don't do," he said.

Coleraine woman Sharon Mullen, who was on business in Belfast, made a special trip to Ashers to buy buns for her husband. "I'm not saying that the McArthurs were right to cancel the order but they should be able to choose."

With the Ashers name rarely out of the headlines in the newspapers and TV stations, it was perhaps inevitable that there were rubber-neckers in Royal Avenue yesterday.

An elderly Belfast couple were in and out of the shop in just over a minute.

"We were only here for a nosey. But all the food looks very nice," said the husband, who didn't want to be named.

Others couldn't resist poking fun at the Ashers clientele. One wag asked them: "Is that the place where they bake the gayteaux?"

Carrickfergus woman Gillian Galbraith, who's an aficionado of Ashers' baking, said she could see Gareth Lee's point as well as the McArthurs', adding: "I believe in live and let live."

But she went on: "The McArthurs are Christian people and while I'm not a Christian myself, I can see where they're coming from."

Michelle Wilson from Lisburn emerged from Ashers after eating her lunch and said: "I feel that when you are in a company you should be able to produce the services that you want. And if you don't want to do something, you shouldn't be forced to."

Ross Harris said: "I've got my views and the McArthurs have their views. They have the right to stick by them."

Another customer, Tanith Stewart from Belfast, said she felt sorry for the McArthur family.

"Why can't they serve who they like?" she asked.

An office worker who didn't want to give his name said: "I buy my lunch here two or three times a week because I like Ashers' food and I back their position on refusing to add the gay marriage slogan to that cake.

"And this is coming from someone who has a gay brother and a gay sister."

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