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'Gay cake' ruling: Arlene Foster hits out at Northern Ireland's Equality Commission

Published 27/10/2016

Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street and the message that sparked gay cake row
Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street and the message that sparked gay cake row

Northern Ireland's Equality Commission needs to take a long look at itself and stop favouring the "metropolitan liberal elite definition" of equality, Stormont's First Minister has said.

Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster criticised the publicly-funded watchdog for its handling of the so-called "gay cake" case when it supported a gay activist's discrimination claim against Christian bakers.

The commission spent almost £90,000 in legal costs backing Gareth Lee, whose order for a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan was rejected by Ashers family run bakery.

Ashers' owners, the McArthurs, were found to have discriminated against Mr Lee. That finding was upheld by the Court of Appeal in Belfast this week.

But the judgment did include some criticism of the Equality Commission.

It said the organisation should also have offered the McArthur family advice during the case, as the bakers believed their rights, as people of faith within the commercial sphere, were also being undermined.

Mrs Foster said she was studying the judgment very closely.

"We have an enormous amount of sympathy for the McArthur family," she said.

"We feel they have been through an absolutely horrific time - not helped I have to say by the actions of Equality Commission.

"I think the Equality Commission have not covered themselves in glory in fact I think it's quite troubling the way in which they have behaved in all of this."

First Minister Arlene Foster speaking to the media at Stormont Castle in Belfast. PA
First Minister Arlene Foster speaking to the media at Stormont Castle in Belfast. PA

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Noting the criticism in the judgment, she added: "I think they need to have a long hard look at how they work with faith communities in Northern Ireland and instead of accepting the metropolitan liberal elite definition of equality they need to look at what real equality is and look at the faith communities in Northern Ireland and that is something they haven't been doing."

After Monday's judgment, Chief Commissioner Dr Michael Wardlow insisted the organisation did represent the rights of all people in society, highlighting a recent case where it supported a man who did not want to work on Sundays due to his beliefs.

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