Pro-gay marriage cake case to go before Supreme Court
The case of Christian bakers found to have breached equality laws by refusing to make a pro-gay marriage cake is set to go before the UK's highest court.
Last month, Court of Appeal judges in Belfast upheld an original judgment which ruled that Ashers bakery had discriminated against a gay activist for declining his order for a cake bearing the slogan "Support Gay Marriage".
Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin has now informed the judges that he intends to invoke his power to refer the case to the Supreme Court.
Under the terms of the 1998 Northern Ireland Act, Stormont's chief law officer can ask the Supreme Court to rule on issues related to devolution. Mr Larkin has decided elements of the Ashers case fulfil that criteria.
A spokeswoman for the Attorney General said: "I can confirm that the Attorney General has, pursuant to paragraph 33 of Schedule 10 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998, served notice identifying a number of devolution issues."
The McArthur family owns and runs Ashers. The devout Christians had been considering mounting a Supreme Court challenge in their own right but had expressed doubt such a legal avenue was open to them. A door that had been previously closed to the family could now well open as a result of Mr Larkin's decision.
The family had also been assessing the potential of taking their case to the European Court of Human Rights.
The controversy first flared when Gareth Lee, a member of the LGBT advocacy group Queer Space, ordered a cake featuring Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie for a private function marking International Day Against Homophobia.
He placed the order in person at Ashers' Belfast city centre branch in May 2014. It was accepted and he paid in full but, two days later, the company called to say it could not proceed with the cake due to the message requested.
In the original court case, District Judge Isobel Brownlie ruled that religious beliefs could not dictate the law and ordered the firm to pay damages of £500.
Mounting an appeal, Ashers contended that it never had an issue with Mr Lee's sexuality, rather the message he was seeking to put on the cake.
The business said the slogan was inconsistent with their deeply held religious beliefs.
The appeal was heard before three senior judges at Belfast's Court of Appeal in May, with the reserved judgment delivered in October.
In delivering their ruling, Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, said Ashers had directly discriminated.
He rejected the argument that the bakery would be endorsing the slogan by baking the cake.
Mr Larkin does not need judicial authority to make a direction to the Supreme Court. However judges can assess whether a specific case meets the relevant conditions for referral.
The matter is due to be addressed before judges in Belfast next week.