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Bakers 'could not commit sin by making pro-gay marriage cake'

Published 09/05/2016

Daniel and Amy McArthur of Ashers Baking Company arrive at the Court of Appeal in Belfast

Christian bakers who refused to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan could not sin by going against their consciences, their lawyer has told an appeal hearing.

The McArthur family, who run Ashers Baking Company in Belfast, are seeking to overturn a court judgement that they acted unlawfully on sexual orientation grounds.

They have insisted the case has implications for freedom of expression across the UK.

Family barrister David Scoffield QC said: "They could not in conscience provide a product with a message that was inconsistent with their deeply-held religious beliefs in circumstances where the evidence was clear that they believed that to do so would be sinful."

Ashers' owners were ordered to pay £500 damages after a County Court judge ruled they directly discriminated against Gareth Lee in refusing to make him a cake featuring Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie with the phrase "Support Gay Marriage" for a private function marking International Day Against Homophobia two years ago.

Mr Lee, a member of the LGBT advocacy group Queer Space, paid the £36.50 in full at Ashers' Belfast city centre branch, but received a phone call two days later and was told the company could not fulfil his order.

Mr Scoffield represented the McArthur family at Belfast's Court of Appeal and said the person who took the order had no idea what Mr Lee's sexual orientation was and had never heard of Queer Space.

He said the alleged discrimination was not against Mr Lee, it was against the message, but the law only covered harm caused to an individual.

"Discrimination must be against the person, not against an idea or an object."

He added: "A cake cannot have a political opinion or a religious belief, it is a person who can do so."

PACEMAKER BELFAST 09/05/2016
Daniel McArthur and his Wife Amy at Belfast High Court on Monday, The Christian owners of Ashers Bakery, the McArthur family, are seeking to appeal a ruling that found they acted unlawfully by refusing to bake a cake with a Slogan supporting gay marriage in May 2014.
PHOTO Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST 09/05/2016 Daniel McArthur and his Wife Amy at Belfast High Court on Monday, The Christian owners of Ashers Bakery, the McArthur family, are seeking to appeal a ruling that found they acted unlawfully by refusing to bake a cake with a Slogan supporting gay marriage in May 2014. PHOTO Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Solicitor Sam Webster with Daniel McArthur and his Wife Amy at Belfast High Court on Monday, The Christian owners of Ashers Bakery, the McArthur family, are seeking to appeal a ruling that found they acted unlawfully by refusing to bake a cake with a Slogan supporting gay marriage in May 2014. PHOTO Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST 09/05/2016 Colin and Karen McArthur at Belfast High Court on Monday, The Christian owners of Ashers Bakery, the McArthur family, are seeking to appeal a ruling that found they acted unlawfully by refusing to bake a cake with a Slogan supporting gay marriage in May 2014. PHOTO Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST 09/05/2016 Gareth Lee ( Gay Rights activist) with Michael Wardlow (Chief Commissioner for the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland) at Belfast High Court on Monday, The Christian owners of Ashers Bakery, the McArthur family, are seeking to appeal a ruling that found they acted unlawfully by refusing to bake a cake with a Slogan supporting gay marriage in May 2014. PHOTO Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST 09/05/2016 Gareth Lee ( Gay Rights activist) at Belfast High Court on Monday, The Christian owners of Ashers Bakery, the McArthur family, are seeking to appeal a ruling that found they acted unlawfully by refusing to bake a cake with a Slogan supporting gay marriage in May 2014. PHOTO Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST 09/05/2016 Daniel McArthur and his Wife Amy at Belfast High Court on Monday, The Christian owners of Ashers Bakery, the McArthur family, are seeking to appeal a ruling that found they acted unlawfully by refusing to bake a cake with a Slogan supporting gay marriage in May 2014. PHOTO Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST 09/05/2016 Gareth Lee ( Gay Rights activist) with Michael Wardlow (Chief Commissioner for the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland) at Belfast High Court on Monday, The Christian owners of Ashers Bakery, the McArthur family, are seeking to appeal a ruling that found they acted unlawfully by refusing to bake a cake with a Slogan supporting gay marriage in May 2014. PHOTO Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST 09/05/2016 Gareth Lee ( Gay Rights activist) with Michael Wardlow (Chief Commissioner for the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland) at Belfast High Court on Monday, The Christian owners of Ashers Bakery, the McArthur family, are seeking to appeal a ruling that found they acted unlawfully by refusing to bake a cake with a Slogan supporting gay marriage in May 2014. PHOTO Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST 09/05/2016 Daniel McArthur and his Wife Amy at Belfast High Court on Monday, The Christian owners of Ashers Bakery, the McArthur family, are seeking to appeal a ruling that found they acted unlawfully by refusing to bake a cake with a Slogan supporting gay marriage in May 2014. PHOTO Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST 09/05/2016 Daniel McArthur and his Wife Amy at Belfast High Court on Monday, The Christian owners of Ashers Bakery, the McArthur family, are seeking to appeal a ruling that found they acted unlawfully by refusing to bake a cake with a Slogan supporting gay marriage in May 2014. PHOTO Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST 09/05/2016 Daniel McArthur and his Wife Amy at Belfast High Court on Monday, The Christian owners of Ashers Bakery, the McArthur family, are seeking to appeal a ruling that found they acted unlawfully by refusing to bake a cake with a Slogan supporting gay marriage in May 2014. PHOTO Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST 09/05/2016 Daniel McArthur and his Wife Amy at Belfast High Court on Monday, The Christian owners of Ashers Bakery, the McArthur family, are seeking to appeal a ruling that found they acted unlawfully by refusing to bake a cake with a Slogan supporting gay marriage in May 2014. PHOTO Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST 09/05/2016 Daniel McArthur and his Wife Amy at Belfast High Court on Monday, The Christian owners of Ashers Bakery, the McArthur family, are seeking to appeal a ruling that found they acted unlawfully by refusing to bake a cake with a Slogan supporting gay marriage in May 2014. PHOTO Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Mandatory Credit - © Freddie Parkinson © Monday 9th May 2016 Belfast High Court Ashers Baking Company's appeal against a ruling which said that the business broke the law by declining to decorate a cake with a pro-gay marriage campaign slogan starts at Belfast High Court. Daniel McArthur
Daniel and Amy McArthur of Ashers Baking Company arrive at the Court of Appeal in Belfast

Ashers, a name with biblical connotations, has six branches in Northern Ireland.

The firm's barrister said it was not contractually obliged to provide the cake, but added: "This was not a refusal to sell a cake, it was about the refusal to sell this particular cake."

He told the three senior judges the crucial question was why the order was not fulfilled.

"This case is an important case. It raises, we submit, an issue of principle.

"The issue is the extent to which those who hold such religious convictions can be required by the law to act in a manner inconsistent with their convictions."

He added: "It makes it extremely difficult for any business such as a printer or someone who, as we have seen in this case, creates T-shirts or creates cakes, to run any kind of bespoke service if faced with the position that someone could come through your door and order something which is clearly objectionable."

The hearing continues and will hear submissions from a lawyer for Mr Lee.

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