Belfast Telegraph

Robinson wades into gay cake row

Peter Robinson has accused the Equality Commission of spending up to £33,000 to seek court damages worth £500 from a Christian-owned bakery.

The commission has brought a civil case against Ashers Baking Company after it refused to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. The two-day hearing is due in the High Court later this week.

The First Minister claimed better use could be made of the money.

"The issue here is where there are competing rights, ensuring that there is reasonable accommodation. That is what the Equality Commission have missed in all of this.

"When you consider that they have set aside the potential of spending £33,000 on this court case where they are seeking damages of £500 against Ashers, there is a better use that could be put to that money, particularly in the tight fiscal situation the Executive faces."

Ashers declined the order for a cake with the image of Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie below the motto Support Gay Marriage.

The Equality Commission took on the case on behalf of the customer.

DUP MLA Paul Givan has tabled a religious conscience clause Bill at Stormont seeking a legal exemption on the grounds of strongly held beliefs.

He has argued that the law had to be rebalanced and there should be space for difference.

The Lagan Valley representative explained that the clause would not allow someone to refuse to serve an individual who held contrary beliefs.

An Equality Commission Spokesperson said: " We can confirm that £8,586.60 has been spent on this case to date. The final costs will be not known until the case is concluded. We can also confirm that our legal funding committee has authorised expenditure not exceeding £33,000.

"The Equality Commission has an important role in ensuring effective application of Northern Ireland's equality laws and supports cases so that people are aware of, and can avail of, the protection these laws afford against all forms of unlawful discrimination.

"This case raises issues of public importance regarding the extent to which suppliers of goods and services can refuse service on grounds of sexual orientation, religious belief and political opinion.

"The Commission's policy is not to discuss the details of any case we are supporting once proceedings have been issued."

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