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Ashers gay cake row: Whatever the outcome, it's unlikely to be the end of the matter

By Claire McNeilly

Published 18/05/2015

It started with a simple request in a small Belfast bakery for a cake.

It ended up in a 17-hour, three-day courtroom battle in March.

And tomorrow district judge Isobel Brownlie will deliver her reserved judgment.

This case of clashing religious and equality rights has attracted interest from across the world.

Gareth Lee, a gay rights activist, had placed an order for a cake with the slogan 'support gay marriage' and an image of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street.

Ashers Bakery initially accepted the order, but contacted Mr Lee a few days later to say they could not fulfil it because it went against their religious beliefs.

In March, Mr Lee told the court that he was left to feel like a "lesser person" when the firm refused his order.

The McArthur family - who own and run Ashers - told the court that they could not "stand before God" and produce a cake supporting gay marriage.

The dispute could have major implications for business owners across Northern Ireland and beyond, who cite religious conscience to refuse services if they feel it is contrary to their beliefs.

If the judge should find in Mr Lee's favour it is unlikely that will be the end of the matter. The case has already ignited a political row. The DUP has been attempting to introduce a conscience clause Bill which would give business owners the right to refuse service if it impinges on their sincerely held religious views.

Pacemaker Press 26/3/2015
Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast with his wife Amy on thursday, Ashers face a discrimination case supported by the Equality Commission, after a dispute began when the Christian-run bakery refused a request to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan.
Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 26/3/2015 Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast with his wife Amy on thursday, Ashers face a discrimination case supported by the Equality Commission, after a dispute began when the Christian-run bakery refused a request to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 24th October Asher's Bakery loose appeal on the judgement over them not wanting to bake a 'gay cake'. Two years ago, the family-run firm refused to make a cake for gay rights activist Gareth Lee with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage" leading to a judge ruling the Christian owners of Ashers had discriminated against him. Daniel McArthur of Ashers with his wife Amy and parents pictured leaving the High Court in Belfast after the judgement was given. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye
Daniel and Amy McArthur of Ashers Baking Company speak to the media at Belfast High Court, as judgment is due to be delivered on an appeal brought by the Christian bakers who were found to have discriminated against gay man Gareth Lee. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 24th October Asher's Bakery loose appeal on the judgement over them not wanting to bake a 'gay cake'. Two years ago, the family-run firm refused to make a cake for gay rights activist Gareth Lee with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage" leading to a judge ruling the Christian owners of Ashers had discriminated against him. Gareth Lee(left) and Dr. Michael Wardlow, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Equality Commission pictured leaving the High Court in Belfast after the judgement was given. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 24th October Asher's Bakery loose appeal on the judgement over them not wanting to bake a 'gay cake'. Two years ago, the family-run firm refused to make a cake for gay rights activist Gareth Lee with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage" leading to a judge ruling the Christian owners of Ashers had discriminated against him. Gareth Lee(left) and Dr. Michael Wardlow, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Equality Commission pictured leaving the High Court in Belfast after the judgement was given. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 24th October Asher's Bakery loose appeal on the judgement over them not wanting to bake a 'gay cake'. Two years ago, the family-run firm refused to make a cake for gay rights activist Gareth Lee with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage" leading to a judge ruling the Christian owners of Ashers had discriminated against him. Daniel McArthur of Ashers and his wife Amy pictured leaving the High Court in Belfast after the judgement was given. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 24th October Asher's Bakery loose appeal on the judgement over them not wanting to bake a 'gay cake'. Two years ago, the family-run firm refused to make a cake for gay rights activist Gareth Lee with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage" leading to a judge ruling the Christian owners of Ashers had discriminated against him. Gareth Lee pictured leaving the High Court in Belfast after the judgement was given. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye
Press Eye Belfast - Northern Ireland 24th October Asher's Bakery loose appeal on the judgement over them not wanting to bake a 'gay cake'. Two years ago, the family-run firm refused to make a cake for gay rights activist Gareth Lee with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage" leading to a judge ruling the Christian owners of Ashers had discriminated against him. Daniel McArthur of Ashers pictured leaving the High Court in Belfast after the judgement was given. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye
Judgement due on 'gay cake' appeal for Ashers Bakery. Two years ago, the family-run firm refused to make a cake for gay rights activist Gareth Lee with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage" leading to a judge ruling the Christian owners of Ashers had discriminated against him. Daniel McArthur of Ashers and his wife Amy arrive at the High Court in Belfast to hear the appeal. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye
Judgement due on 'gay cake' appeal for Ashers Bakery. Two years ago, the family-run firm refused to make a cake for gay rights activist Gareth Lee with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage" leading to a judge ruling the Christian owners of Ashers had discriminated against him. Gareth Lee(left) and Dr. Michael Wardlow, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Equality Commission arrives at the High Court in Belfast to hear the appeal. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye
Daniel McArthur (L), managing director of Ashers Bakery and his wife Amy McArthur (R) hold a press conference as they outside Belfast high court alongside family members for the so called 'Gay Cake' case verdict on October 24, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arrive at court for the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Gay rights activist Gareth Lee outside Laganside Court. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Gay rights activist Gareth Lee outside Laganside Court. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Gay rights activist Gareth Lee outside Laganside Court. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Gay rights activist Gareth Lee gets a hug from a friend outside Laganside Court. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Gay rights activist Gareth Lee gets a hug from a friend outside Laganside Court. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 19/5/2015 Daniel McArthur (director of Ashers Bakery) and with wife Amy at Laganside court in Belfast on Tuesday Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Dr Michael Wardlow(left() from the Equality Commission and Gareth Lee(centre) pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
The DUP's Paul Givan(second from right) and Edwin Poots(second from left) pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arrive at court for the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arrive at court for the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arrive at court for the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy arrive at court for the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Gareth Lee who had tried to order the cake. Gareth Lee(centre) pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Gareth Lee who had tried to order the cake. Gareth Lee(right) pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Gareth Lee who had trued to order the cake. Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Gareth Lee(centre) pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Gareth Lee receives a hug outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Bakery owners Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy pictured outside the court after the verdict. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Ashers found guilty of discrimination in cake case. A judge has found a Christian bakery which refused to make a cake bearing a pro-gay marriage slogan guilty of discrimination. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 19th May 2015 Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye
Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast with his familly Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Daniel and Amy McArthur arrive at Laganside Court yesterday morning
Ashers' Daniel McArthur with his wife Amy and his parents Colin and Karen behind leave Laganside Court after the case finished
Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast with his family. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Daniel McArthur, general manager of Asher's Bakery gives a statement to the media before entering court
Ashers Baking Co on Belfast’s Royal Avenue, where Gareth Lee placed the order for the cake at the centre of the court action
Ashers bakery boss Daniel McArthur at Belfast Court. Pic Mark Simpson BBC
More than 2,000 people pack the Waterfront Hall to show support for Ashers bakery
Gareth Lee, whose lawyer put his side of the case to the court yesterday
Daniel and Amy McArthur arriving at Belfast County Court to fight a challenge by Northern Ireland's Equality Commission following their refusal to make a cake bearing a pro-gay marriage slogan. David Young/PA Wire
The cake at the centre of the Ashers row
Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast with his wife Amy on thursday. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Christian Institute support rally for Ashers bakery held at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. Photograph: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
Christian Institute support rally for Ashers bakery held at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. Photograph: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
Daniel McArthur (General manager at Ashers Bakery) arrives at Laganside Court in Belfast. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Daniel and Amy McArthur with their baby daughter Elia
Christian Institute support rally for Ashers bakery held at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. In attendance is the DUP's Sammy Wilson. Photograph:Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
The Ashers Baking Co outlet in Belfast’s Royal Avenue
Mayor Andrew Muir cutting a Sesame Street Bert and Ernie 'Support Gay Marriage' cake

Sinn Fein says it will block this Bill. District judge Isobel Brownlie told Belfast County Court she would reserve her judgment so that "full consideration" could be given to the evidence, which was presented over three days.

Regardless of the verdict, the controversy seems certain to be destined for appeals to higher courts.

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