Owners of gay cake row bakers Ashers ask for prayers as they consider next step
The owners of Ashers Bakery have sent a message of thanks to their supporters, saying they "do not feel defeated or dismayed" after losing their appeal against being found to have unlawfully refused to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan.
The McArthur family also said they haven't decided whether to take further legal action following last month's landmark verdict by senior judges, who ruled they directly discriminated against a customer due to his sexuality.
Ashers' Baking Company declined an order placed by gay rights activist Gareth Lee at its Belfast city centre shop in May 2014. He had requested a cake depicting Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie below the motto 'Support Gay Marriage' for an event to mark International Day Against Homophobia.
Bosses at the bakery refunded his money for the order because the message ran contrary to their Christian faith.
In their letter of thanks - sent to churches which have backed them, as well as to thousands of individual supporters - Daniel McArthur said he wanted to express "how thankful we are for your prayerful support at this time".
"It has been our joy to take a small stand for Christ and to have opportunities to witness for Him in the public spotlight, and we have many people to thank for how they have been an encouragement to us," he said.
"Above all, we give God thanks for how He has brought us through all our difficulties and spread his wings over us. Despite the judgment delivered last week, we do not feel defeated or dismayed."
In May 2015, District Judge Brownlie ruled that Ashers Baking Company had broken sexual orientation and political discrimination laws.
The lengthy and costly legal action against the bakery was brought by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. The family is still considering possible further legal options with its advisors.
In their judgment, three Court of Appeal judges accepted that Ashers did not refuse the cake order because the customer, Mr Lee, was gay, but nonetheless ruled that refusing the order because of its slogan "was direct discrimination".
In his letter, Mr McArthur asked supporters to pray for his family as it decides what to do next. "We believe that this judgment is part of God's will and through it He will bring glory to Himself. We take comfort in knowing that our God is sovereign and rules over all the earth. Please continue to pray for us as we look to God for guidance in response to this judgment. 'As I have planned, so shall it be' Isaiah 14 v 24," Mr McArthur wrote.
The Christian Institute has backed the case which, it says, demonstrates the need for the law to reasonably accommodate family-run businesses with firmly-held beliefs. Its spokesman Simon Calvert said that although it has already cost more than £200,000 to help Ashers defend the case, it will continue to support them.
"It has been an inspirational privilege to stand with Daniel and his family in this fundamentally important matter as they consider the implications of the recent decision and options which they may now have in the future," he said.
"We promised that through The Christian Institute's Legal Defence Fund we would stand with the family through this costly battle, and we will continue to do so. It has cost over £200,000 so far to defend the legal action brought against them by the Equality Commission."