Belfast Telegraph

Ashers ruling: Disappointed yes, but this couple's faith is still unshakeable

By Claire McNeilly

They arrived with hope in their hearts and a spring in their step. They left more leaden-footed, although the pride was clearly still there, as was the unshakeable faith.

There was a lot of sadness and more than a little pain in the McArthurs' eyes as they stood outside the court of appeal in Belfast yesterday, trying to make sense of what had gone on inside.

The young couple had been here before - the imposing courthouse building, the many supporters of their cause, the media there to relay a fascinating, complex, divisive and multi-faceted story ... and the ultimate, demoralising disappointment.

Daniel McArthur, holding hands with his heavily pregnant wife Amy, who was elegantly dressed in a navy blue tunic, dark leggings and a white jacket, spoke in measured tones but there was no hiding the anger and frustration in his voice. Also flanked by his father Colin (49) and mother Karen (46), the 26-year-old general manager of the family-owned Ashers baking business spoke with the assured articulation of someone driven by both his honestly-held beliefs and a deep sense of frustration that those beliefs are not garnering any empathy in a court of law.

Mr McArthur, who was wearing a dark blue suit, checked shirt and green tie, is good at getting his message across but although the people who really matter had once again listened, they had, once again, not concurred.

After a 30-minute ruling, the devout couple were forced to absorb the decision by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and Lord Justices Weatherup and Weir who concluded that their Christian-run bakery had indeed discriminated against Gareth Lee, a gay rights activist, by refusing to make a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage.

And, after losing this appeal, the question hung heavy in the air - where to now?

Although their belief is inexhaustible, you wonder if the same can be said about the family's willingness to invest time, emotion - and of course considerable funds - into another attempt at proving that, as evangelical Christians, they did nothing wrong. Support for their stance, as evidenced outside court yesterday, is strong and palpable, and that's easy to understand; you get the impression that Daniel and Amy (27), who will soon give birth to the couple's third child, epitomise what the people who back them believe a typical, loving, Northern Ireland married couple should look like.

The scene also acted, however, as a microcosm of the ongoing struggle, and indeed the yawning chasm, between reformers and fundamentalists.

Daniel McArthur and Gareth Lee may have been wearing similar suits, sitting at opposite ends of the same bench in court yesterday, but that was where the similarity ended.

Not surprisingly, Mr Lee bore a smile as bright as the autumn sunshine. Until yesterday we had seen a lot of, but heard nothing from, the man whose request for a cake depicting the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie below the motto 'Support gay marriage' began this chain of events two years ago.

He spoke for barely 10 seconds and what he said merely confirmed what we'd read in his face: contentment, and relief that it's all over.

Over? Gareth Lee may well be the only person in Northern Ireland who really believes that.

Belfast Telegraph


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