New Christian storm as printing firm refuses gay couple's civil partnership invitations
Warning over 'intolerance of faith' after row erupts over business refusing order
More and more Christians could find themselves hauled before the courts because of growing intolerance of their faith, it has been claimed.
The warning comes amid a new controversy over a company which refused to do business with a gay couple.
The owners of a printing firm in Co Louth turned down a request to produce invitations for a civil partnership ceremony, because of their Christian beliefs.
The row echoes the furore surrounding Ashers Bakery, which is facing legal action after declining to bake a cake celebrating gay marriage.
It also mirrors a case taken against a Portadown businessman 18 months ago for refusing to print a gay magazine.
Simon Calvert from the Christian Institute warned that more firms will find themselves in the firing line because of their faith.
Mr Calvert said there was an acceptance, even among the gay community, that the vilification of businesses had gone too far.
"I think a lot of gay rights supporters will think this is going too far," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
The latest row centres on Beulah Print and Design, based in Drogheda. The company said it declined an order from Jonathon Brennan, one of its former customers, because of its religious beliefs.
Mr Brennan (29) will enter a civil partnership with his partner of eight years, John Kierans, in August. He said he had been a customer of the printing company for four years before it refused to accept his order.
Mr Brennan said the firm's co-owner, Noel Tuite, initially agreed to print the invitations.
But he was then told on Wednesday that the order would be declined, leaving him "infuriated and shocked".
The co-owners of Beulah Print, Mr Tuite and Mike O'Leary, said they were "Bible-believing Christians".
"We have been in business for 12 years, during which time we have held to our convictions and have, at times, declined a variety of work which we felt was clearly contrary to our beliefs," the firm said.
The case has striking similarities with that of Nick Williamson. In 2013, the Portadown businessman came under fire after refusing to print a magazine for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
He said he could not have his business associated with the first print edition of MyGayZine because of his Christian beliefs.
The publicly-funded Equality Commission was contacted about the issue but, last December, he said nothing had come of the matter.
Meanwhile, Ashers Bakery is due in court later this month. The company is facing action from the Equality Commission after it refused to bake a cake bearing the words "Support gay marriage".
Ashers said it refused the order because it was at odds with its Christian faith. The Christian Institute is supporting the company.
Mr Calvert, who is a director of the lobby group, said he was concerned by the growing number of cases. "Unless we regain a proper sense of tolerance, we are going to see more and more cases like this," he said.
"How far is it going to go? Should a Muslim printer be forced to print cartoons of the prophet Muhammad? Should an atheist web designer have to design a website promoting the view that God made the world in six days?"
Mr Calvert accused Mr Brennan of trying to make an example of Beulah Print. "It seems that the intolerance is on the part of the customer rather than on the part of the printer," he claimed.
"The printer was very open about his Christian faith and was very happy to work with this customer over several years.
"He clearly is very happy to serve his gay customers."
Mr Calvert added: "Although there are 1,001 other print shops that he can go to to get his civil partnership invites printed, he has chosen to try to make an example of this Christian printer."
Tiernan Brady from the Dublin-based Gay and Lesbian Equality Network said it was against the Republic's law to deny goods or services. "That's a good law and it's there for a reason, as it protects people," he said.
Mr Brady said it was his experience that the denial of goods or services to gay people was a rare occurrence in the Republic, with the vast majority in favour of laws to protect the community.
The Ashers controversy has prompted DUP MLA Paul Givan to seek to introduce a conscience clause into equality law. It would allow businesses to refuse to provide some services if they clash with their religious beliefs.