David Cameron in the mix over Bert and Ernie gay marriage cake row
Cakegate: PM urges 'British tolerance' in reply to DUP Commons question
The Prime Minister says tolerance towards people of different sexualities is an "important part of being British" after a Belfast bakery refused to make a cake for a gay event.
David Cameron was responding to a question from DUP MP Gregory Campbell at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday in the House of Commons.
It comes after a Ashers Baking Company refused a customer's request to bake a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage.
The cake, depicting Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie, was ordered by a gay activist and intended for an anti-homophobia event.
But Ashers Baking Company, which is run by devout Christians, refused to handle the order.
The Newtownabbey-based company could now face legal action from the Equality Commission.
Mr Campbell yesterday brought his call for a "conscience clause" to protect religious freedom to the Prime Minister.
He said: "The Northern Ireland Equality Commission is threatening legal action against the family-owned bakery because they wouldn't print a political message on a cake.
"The requested message was completely at variance with the company's Christian values.
"Does the Prime Minister agree that so-called equality is now being viewed by many as an oppressive threat to religious freedom and does he further agree that such freedoms should be protected by the introduction of a conscience clause?"
Mr Cameron said he was not aware of the specific case Mr Campbell raised but he would research it later.
He replied: "I do think a commitment to equality in terms of racial equality, in terms of equality to those of different sexes, equality in terms of people who have disabilities or, indeed tolerance of and equality of people with different sexualities, all of that is a very important part of being British."
Speaking after raising the issue, Mr Campbell said: "There have been a number of cases across the United Kingdom where so-called equality legislation has impeded the ability of people to uphold their religious beliefs.
"This latest case locally has seen a family-owned bakery threatened by legal action because they would not print a political slogan onto a cake.
"Such a message ran contrary to the company's Christian values."
The East Londonderry MP added: "It is disappointing that the Prime Minister would not comment on the need for religious freedom to be protected through the introduction of a conscience clause.
"This is not something which the deputy president of the Supreme Court has considered and suggested in order to achieve the necessary balance between equal rights and freedoms in the UK.
"Such calls have also come from other legal experts and MPs across the House of Commons, so it is something the Government will eventually have to listen to. Tolerance needs to be a two-way street, but this case highlights that currently those who cannot support a particular political campaign may find themselves forced before the courts. That is totally unacceptable."
Ashers Bakery general manager Daniel McArthur said the Christian-owned company would not be baking a cake with a pro-same-sex message under any circumstances.
He said a full refund was collected, then, six weeks later, the firm received a letter from the Equality Commission alleging it had discriminated against the customer on the basis of his sexual orientation.