Northern Ireland bakery boss upbeat as top judges to rule on cake slogan case appeal
The Christian manager of a Northern Ireland bakery has said he is feeling encouraged ahead of a hearing by the UK's highest court on the so-called 'gay cake' case.
The owners of Ashers Bakery are challenging a ruling that their refusal to make a cake iced with a pro-gay marriage slogan nearly four years ago was discriminatory.
Five judges from the Supreme Court will begin hearing legal arguments on Tuesday when it sits in Belfast for the first time.
Ashers Bakery manager Daniel McArthur said: "Having the Supreme Court in Belfast hearing our arguments shows they recognise the seriousness of the issues at stake and that is an encouragement to us.
The McArthur family, who operate the baking business, made international headlines in May 2014 after refusing to make a cake featuring Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie alongside the slogan 'Support Gay Marriage'.
The order came from Gareth Lee, a gay rights activist.
"We politely said no and the order was fulfilled by another local bakery, yet here we are four years later still defending the right not to be forced into someone else's campaign," Mr McArthur said.
The baker has always maintained the order was declined because the political slogan is "totally contrary" to the family's Christian beliefs.
The refusal to make the cake, which was worth £36.50, led to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) taking the bakery to court and it has so far cost the company around £200,000 in legal fees.
In December 2016, the Court of Appeal upheld an original court judgment which found that the bakery had "unlawfully discriminated" against Mr Lee. The business was also ordered to pay £500 damages to Mr Lee.
But now the case will be heard by a team of legal experts, including the former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland Lord Kerr, in the Inn of Court at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Simon Calvert from The Christian Institute, which has been supporting the McArthur family, said the legal team is well prepared to defend important principles on behalf of everyone.
"We believe that rulings in the lower courts undermine democratic freedom, religious freedom and free speech," he added.
"It is not right to compel people to help make statements, whether in ink or in icing, with which they profoundly disagree.
"A truly tolerant society must allow for differences of belief," he said.
Mr Calvert said a series of public meetings held across Northern Ireland this week attracted 2,000 people.
It is understood the Supreme Court will also hear arguments from the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin, who questioned the validity of the laws used against the bakery.