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Gay cake row: Ashers Bakery limits offerings after Sunday Life request replica of Support Gay Marriage cake

By Christopher Woodhouse

Published 26/05/2015

You can't have you cake and eat it: Our reporter Christopher Woodhouse outside Ashers Bakery in Belfast. Pic: Colm O'Reilly/Sunday Life.
You can't have you cake and eat it: Our reporter Christopher Woodhouse outside Ashers Bakery in Belfast. Pic: Colm O'Reilly/Sunday Life.
Disappointed: Ashers Bakery general manager Daniel McArthur and wife Amy outside court. Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Gay rights activist Gareth Lee leaves Belfast County Court. Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Ashers Bakery only announced it had suspended supplying wedding cakes after receiving a request for an identical cake to the one at the centre of a legal battle it lost.

We made the replica Bert and Ernie cake request on Friday to see what the response would be, three days after Ashers lost a landmark legal battle over their refusual to supply a pro-gay marriage cake.

On hearing our reporter's description of the cake he wanted, an Ashers employee said "Oh please, we don't have time for this", before hanging up the phone.

Shortly after that a statement came through from Ashers to Sunday Life explaining the company was temporarily reviewing its celebration cake range in light of the legal ruling.

The Christian owned bakery was found to have unlawfully discriminated by Belfast County Court last week after refusing to make a cake bearing the slogan "Support Gay Marriage" for gay activist Gareth Lee.

District Judge Isobel Brownlie ruled that bakery owners, Colin and Karen McArthur, had discriminated on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The cake's design also featured Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie and the logo of Belfast-based gay rights campaign group QueerSpace.

When our reporter called Ashers on Friday to order a replica cake he got short shrift when he described the cake he wanted.

In a statement provided to Sunday Life alone later, Ashers Bakery said they were reviewing their celebration cake range in light of the legal ruling.

"Due to the recent legal developments we have decided to limit our celebration cake range to birthday cakes and baby-related celebration cakes only while we consider our policy," they said.

Adding: "Sorry for any inconvenience this may cause."

Hours later the Christian Institute issued a general press release to all media announcing Ashers temporary change of policy, saying: "Ashers Baking Company has decided to limit the scope of its Build A Cake department while the owners review this aspect of their business and take further advice from lawyers."

Ashers Bakery founders Colin and Karen McArthur ended up before the County Court after Mr Lee ordered a cake at their Belfast shop on Royal Avenue.

He paid in full but was shocked to be told two days later that the firm would not supply the cake.

The cake was for a private function to mark International Day Against Homophobia in May last year.

In his evidence to the court hearing in March, Mr Lee said the rejection had made him feel like a "lesser person".

Mr Lee brought the action against the bakery with the support of the Equality Commission while Ashers Bakery was supported by the Christian Institute.

Karen McArthur said in her evidence that homosexual marriage was contrary to what she described as "God's law".

"As part of my Christian belief, I believe that the only divinely ordained sexual relationship is that between a man and a woman within the bonds of matrimony," she said.

In her judgement District Judge Brownlie said the McArthur family held "genuine deeply held religious beliefs" but added: "As much as I acknowledge their religious beliefs this is a business to provide service to all. The law says they must do that."

Judge Brownlie accepted Mr Lee had been treated "less favourably contrary to the law."

She said: "My finding is that the defendants cancelled this order as they oppose same-sex marriage for the reason that they regard it as sinful and contrary to genuinely-held religious beliefs.

"The defendants are not a religious organisation. They are conducting a business for profit and, notwithstanding their genuine religious beliefs, there are no exceptions available under the 2006 regulations which apply to this case."

Online Editors

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