Belfast Telegraph

Ashers gay cake case: Vast amounts of money, complex arguments, and now a painstaking wait

By Rebecca Black

For a case that has exposed a fault line between Christians and the LGBT community and attracted attention across the world, the latest legal action by Ashers Bakery came to a rather subdued end yesterday.

As the most senior law lords in the land retired to consider two days of complex arguments put forward by the Christian owners of Ashers Bakery and the Equality Commission, both sides left court without uttering a word.

Previous court appearances saw the photogenic young McArthur couple addressing a sea of cameras and supporters. As Ashers' owners, they were found to have discriminated against gay activist Gareth Lee, by refusing to make a cake iced with the slogan 'Support Gay Marriage'.

But the mood was more businesslike yesterday morning with Daniel McArthur - unusually without his wife Amy by his side and supported instead by his father - striding purposefully into the Supreme Court in Belfast. None of the McArthur family spoke to the media yesterday, leaving Simon Calvert of their backers, the Christian Institute, to address waiting journalists.

As ever, Mr Lee also declined to speak.

Both sides and their fervent supporters across the world - both Christians and LGBT activists - now face a long painstaking wait of up to eight months to hear the verdict of the UK's highest court of appeal.

The sums of money involved in this landmark case are vast - £200,000 and counting shelled out by the Christian Institute to fund the McArthurs' appeal, and around £150,000 spent so far by the Equality Commission to advocate for Mr Lee.

As Robin Allen QC, acting for the Equality Commission, told the Supreme Court during yesterday's hearing: "Nobody could litigate this case as an individual unless they were a multi-millionaire."

However, the Christian Institute appears undaunted and prepared to go the distance - to Strasbourg if necessary - as Mr Calvert indicated when he spoke to the media outside the court yesterday morning.

"The Christian Institute has agreed from the start that we will meet the entire legal bill for the McArthurs," he said.

"We and our supporters are very happy to do that for them because of the stance they have taken.

"We will wait and see how much it is going to cost for the hearing here in the Supreme Court.

"The Supreme Court will take months to issue their ruling. When that ruling comes down, the McArthurs will want to sit down with their lawyers and see whether they have won, whether they have lost, whether it's a partial victory - because that is entirely possible in a case like this - and consider their options from there.

"Anyone who has exhausted their domestic remedies is free to go to the European Court of Human Rights. However, whether the McArthurs will want to do that is a decision for another day, and obviously depends on the ruling that the court gives, whether they win, lose or a bit of both.

"No-one is foolish enough to predict what eventually the judges will do. We are absolutely confident that the McArthurs have a very strong legal argument and a very strong legal team, but whether the Supreme Court will be persuaded is a matter for them."

The Equality Commission's Chief Commissioner, Michael Wardlow, described Mr Lee as the "ghost at the banquet".

"He has been living this for four years, and the media and others have been focusing on the McArthurs," he said.

"But he is, if you like, the ghost at the banquet. He is sitting at the side of this, and he has been having to live each day seeing that this still has not finished.

"I don't know how you would feel if you walked into a shop and had to try to understand what is the conscience of people providing the service... do I have to go through a list before I can be served? And I think this is hopefully going to settle it once and for all."

Mr Wardlow also explained why Mr Lee has stayed silent.

"The reason he hasn't been doing interviews is that this isn't about Gareth Lee. Gareth was just a guy who had gone in (to Ashers) and thought he had a service but didn't get it and he was left confused. I hope that when the decision comes, whenever that is, that he will walk away knowing that he has been vindicated," he said.

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