Belfast Telegraph

Ashers bakery couple: God will give us strength to keep going

McArthurs speak out after cake case legal appeal is stalled by Attorney General’s intervention

Daniel and Amy McArthur outside court
Daniel and Amy McArthur outside court
Gareth Lee, whose complaint led to the Equality Commission taking up his case
The DUP’s Edwin Poots and Paul Givan speak to the media

By Deborah McAleese

The Christian family at the centre of the same-sex marriage cake row have said they will take "strength from God" after being forced to wait another four months to fight their case.

A High Court appeal by the owners of Ashers Baking Company, who were found to have discriminated against a gay customer, was brought to a halt yesterday after a last-minute intervention by the Attorney General, who raised questions over Northern Ireland's equality legislation.

The development means the case will now not be heard until May - a full two years since the bakery refused to bake a cake bearing a pro-gay marriage slogan.

As their battle to protect their Christian beliefs rumbles on, Ashers' manager Daniel McArthur, who was accompanied in court by wife Amy, said they remained confident their case was "right and just".

"We were fully prepared for the hearing to go ahead and arrived in full expectation it would do so," he said.

"However, developments have taken place which are clearly out of our control due to the decision by the Attorney General to intervene.

"Clearly, our case raises matters of crucial importance if he has taken a decision to become involved.

"We have every confidence in our legal team and the arguments which were to be put forward and we had also clearly placed our trust, as always, in God."

Mr McArthur added: "While the delay means it will be exactly two years to the day that the order was placed which led to the case, we are patient people and will now await the next stage in the process and remain confident that our case is right and just.

"We have said in the past that the case has been a source of some stress, but it has also offered us great strength in each other and in God."

Last year Ashers bakery was ordered to pay £500 for refusing to make the cake with the pro-gay marriage slogan on it.

A Belfast court found that customer Gareth Lee had been discriminated against on the grounds of his sexual orientation.

He was backed in the case by the Northern Ireland Equality Commission, which paid almost £39,000 in legal fees.

The McArthur family, which run Ashers, decided to appeal the decision, with financial backing from the Christian Institute.

However, yesterday's appeal was halted by the Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, Lord Justice Weir and Lord Justice Weatherup following a last-minute request from Attorney General John Larkin.

Mr Larkin wants to make representation in the case about any potential conflict between sections of the province's equality legislation and UK and European human rights laws.

Adjourning the case until May, Sir Declan told the court: "It is most unfortunate this issue has arisen only two days before this hearing.

"We have all tried to see if we could facilitate the case proceeding today, given the amount of work that has been done."

He added: "It is simply not possible without running into some risk of unfairness."

Following the adjournment, Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission, which is backing Mr Lee, said he was disappointed by the delay.

"We came here today for this very important case and we were looking forward to hearing the arguments.

"We are very disappointed that at this very late stage another argument has come in and that has to be resolved. The reality is it could take months for this to be resolved."

In May 2014 Mr Lee, a member of LGBT advocacy group Queer Space, had wanted a cake featuring Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie, with the slogan 'Support gay marriage' for a private function marking International Day Against Homophobia.

He paid in full when placing the order at Ashers' Belfast branch, but two days later the company phoned to say it could not be processed.

Following a three-day hearing last March, District Judge Isobel Brownlie found Ashers directly discriminated against Mr Lee, who had been treated "less favourably", contrary to the law.

Ordering the baker to pay damages of £500, the judge said religious beliefs could not dictate the law.

However, the McArthurs said they believed they were being punished for their Christian beliefs and they should be allowed to retain the freedom to decline business that would force them to promote a cause with which they disagreed.

Belfast Telegraph


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