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Ashers to take cake case to Supreme Court after law chief is turned down

By Cate McCurry

Ashers bakery has confirmed it will take a discrimination case about a cake with a slogan promoting same-sex marriage to the Supreme Court.

The announcement yesterday came 24 hours after judges ruled that Northern Ireland's Attorney General could not refer the case to the UK's highest court.

In October the Court of Appeal upheld a finding that Ashers directly discriminated against gay customer Gareth Lee because of his sexuality when he ordered the cake backing same-sex marriage.

The order was rejected and his money refunded.

On Wednesday Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan ruled that Attorney General John Larkin could not refer the matter to the Supreme Court.

That avenue remained open to the family - and yesterday it was confirmed they would lodge an appeal.

Ashers is run by Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy, who have a young family.

A statement released by The Christian Institute, which is backing the family in their legal battle, said that papers would be lodged with the Supreme Court next month.

"The Ashers Baking Company has confirmed that it plans to launch an appeal to the Supreme Court over the gay cake case," it added.

"Earlier this week the Attorney General of Northern Ireland was refused the right to refer the devolution issues in the case to the Supreme Court.

"But last week, following a hearing at the Court of Appeal in Belfast, three judges refused leave to appeal, but Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan left the way open for the firm to take the matter further when he stated: 'We refuse leave to appeal; we consider the matter should be properly left to the Supreme Court'."

A spokesman for the family said: "Ashers Baking Company will take the necessary legal steps to instigate a Supreme Court appeal on this crucially important matter as soon as possible, and papers must be lodged early in the new year."

Gay rights activist Mr Lee sued after his order was declined at the company's Belfast city centre shop in May 2014.

He had requested a cake depicting Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie below the words 'Support Gay Marriage' for an event to mark International Day Against Homophobia.

Bosses at the bakery refunded his £36.50 order because the message went against their Christian faith.

The family insisted their problem was with the cake and not the customer.

But Mr Lee claimed he was left feeling like a lesser person.

Last year Belfast County Court held that the bakery had unlawfully discriminated against Mr Lee on grounds of sexual orientation and religious belief or political opinion. Lawyers for the McArthur family appealed the case.

However, judges ruled that the company could not provide a service that only reflected the owners' political or religious message.

Following the ruling Ashers bakery was ordered to pay a fine of £500.

But with the family's decision to appeal against the ruling, the case is now expected to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees.

Last week lawyers for the bakery were formally refused leave to challenge the verdict at the Appeal Court. A separate potential route involved Mr Larkin's attempt to invoke his powers under the 1998 Northern Ireland Act.

He was intending to ask the Supreme Court to rule on issues related to devolution in the case.

However, Sir Declan ruled on Wednesday in the Court of Appeal that the step came after the case had ended.

"We do not consider there are exceptional circumstances in this case which require us to reopen proceedings," he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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