Catholic priest Bartlett in snub over 'gay cake' case
A priest has withdrawn co-operation with groups in the gay community in protest over looming Equality Commission legal action against a family-run bakery.
The commission confirmed it is taking Ashers Baking Company to court after the firm refused to make a cake with the message 'Support Gay Marriage' iced on it.
Fr Tim Bartlett, who was on the panel for this year's Belfast Pride event, said: "I will be writing today to those groups from the gay community, with whom I have had a very constructive and ongoing engagement in recent years, to say that I am withdrawing my engagement until the right of all people, in this case Christians, to freedom of conscience is vindicated and respected by the Equality Commission and the gay community."
John O'Doherty of the Rainbow Project criticised Fr Bartlett's stance.
He said: "I think it's very disappointing; I think rather than being a reason to stop conversations, it further indicates the needs for conversation."
The commission also said the complainant in the cake case had been seeking "only modest damages for the upset and inconvenience caused".
A spokesman added: "The commission has now received a response from the company's solicitors stating that their view remains unchanged that their clients have not acted unlawfully, confirming they have no further proposals to make on their clients' behalf and that they will accept service of a civil bill in regard to this matter.
"The commission will be issuing a civil bill in this case and a decision as to whether or not discrimination has occurred will be a matter for the court."
General manager of the bakery Daniel McArthur - who appeared relaxed as he posed for family pictures yesterday - said the Equality Commission letter stated that if the bakery did not offer compensation within seven days it would face litigation.
"We feel that the Equality Commission are pursuing us because of our beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman," he said.
"It feels like a David and Goliath battle because on one hand we have the Equality Commission, who are a public body, they're funded by taxpayers' money, they have massive resources at their disposal, whereas we are a small family business and we have limited resources at our disposal."
The DUP and Evangelical Alliance also slammed the court action.
A cake featuring a picture of Bert and Ernie from Seasame Street had been ordered in Belfast by gay activist Gareth Lee earlier this year for a civic event in Bangor marking International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. He wanted the message 'Support Gay Marriage' written on it.
At the time, gay Alliance councillor Andrew Muir blasted the company's refusal to bake the cake.