Belfast Telegraph

Gay cake row: Andrew Muir calls for mediation

Alliance councillor Andrew Muir has urged the two sides involved in the Ashers 'gay cake' dispute to not go to court.

"This is not an ideal test case. Unfortunately it's pitched people of religious belief against lesbian and gay people and I think that's very sad. It's not the type of society that I want in Northern Ireland where we have that adversarial set up," he told the BBC.

"There should always have been mediation in relation to this matter and if there's an opportunity for mediation today and tomorrow, let's go for that.

"Let's try to resolve this outside the court because legal action should always be the last resort."

Ashers Baking Company declined an order for a cake with the image of Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie below the motto Support Gay Marriage.

The cake was ordered for an event Mr Muir hosted when mayor of North Down Borough Council.

Another bakery stepped in and produced the cake to help mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Bangor town hall, Co Down.

The Equality Commission took on the case on behalf of the customer. Mr Muir was presented with a replacement cake after the Belfast from another bakery. Councillor Muir, who was the first openly gay mayor in Northern Ireland, is not directly involved in the legal case.

A spokesperson for the Equality Commission said: "The commission is supporting an individual taking a case before the County Court alleging discrimination under two anti-discrimination statutes - the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations NI 2006 and the Fair Employment and Treatment Order NI 1998.

"This case raises issues of public importance regarding the extent to which suppliers of goods and services can refuse service on grounds of sexual orientation, religious belief and/or political opinion."

Ashers was founded in Newtownabbey, north of Belfast, in 1992 and is run by the McArthur family. The Christian directors oversee six shops in Northern Ireland and employ 62 people.

The company was named after a verse from the Bible, which refers to "Bread from Asher".

DUP MLA Paul Givan tabled a religious 'conscience clause' Bill at Stormont seeking a legal exemption on the grounds of strongly held beliefs.

The Lagan Valley representative said that the clause would not allow someone to refuse to serve an individual who held contrary beliefs.

Sinn Fein has said that it will use a petition of concern to block the bill. Caitriona Ruane MLA said: "Sinn Fein said we would oppose any attempt to undermine the rights of all people in our society to have equal and fair service when buying goods and services."

The SDLP's Alex Attwood said if the Bill his party would also sign the petition of concern.

Green Party MLA Steven Agnew said: "The so-called 'conscience clause' is nothing but a thinly veiled attempt to legalise discrimination against LGB people."

In February more than 100,000 people signed a US petition in just 48 hours in opposition to the DUP plan. In December last year English comedian and actor Stephen Fry said the amendment Bill was 'sick'.

A poll released, commissioned by the Christian Institute and released on Monday, found that more than 70% of people believe it is wrong for a Christian bakery to be taken to court over its refusal to make a cake supporting gay marriage. A link to the poll is available here (PDF).

As the case approaches, the debate has intensifed between Christian-based groups, including church leaders, and pro-gay groups.

On Tuesday evening, more than 2,000 people gathered at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast to show their support for Ashers.

The court case, which begins Thursday, is expected to last two days.

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