Belfast Telegraph

Video: Ashers 'gay cake' case: Almost 1,500 days later, the McArthurs’ faith remains unshakeable

By Claire McNeilly

Daniel and Amy McArthur strode down to the assembled media like seasoned veterans. The five judges of the Supreme Court may not be familiar with these surroundings, but the general manager of Ashers Baking Company Ltd and his wife most certainly are.

For them, it's a place steeped in disappointment, a regular source of what they fervently believe is injustice, a venue where their voice is heard but not acted upon in the way they'd have wanted.

So here they are again ... and here we go again.

The young couple's faith in what they are doing, and hope for what they want to achieve, remains undiminished.

That's why they're back at Laganside, undeterred by two previous unfavourable rulings and putting their trust now in the highest court in the land, sitting for the first time in Belfast and only the second time outside London.

Just moments after Mr McArthur started speaking to reporters outside the court on a bitterly cold morning, a cyclist clad in a light blue tracksuit sped past the gathering, yelling "gay cake" before pedalling furiously away.

 

After almost four years, few are unaware of what this case is all about.

The Supreme Court may well be a citadel for open minds but, outside, the appellants remained tunnel-visioned in their desire to have earlier rulings - that Ashers had breached equality laws - overturned.

This time round, though, it will be a panel of five - Lord Hodge, Lord Mance, Lady Hale, Lord Kerr and Lady Black - who will sit in final judgment.

With his elegantly dressed wife, who is six months pregnant, by his side, Mr McArthur admitted that he'd "rather it hadn't come to this".

He's no stranger to expressing disappointment outside these courts but yesterday took the opportunity to say something before the legal arguments began.

Dressed in a neat navy suit and white shirt, green tie and tan shoes, and speaking with the air of someone now intimately familiar with the vicissitudes and idiosyncrasies of legal matters, he told the media: "The Equality Commission has pushed for an interpretation of the law which extinguishes our conscience. They think that some people are more equal than others ..."

Mrs McArthur (28), already the mother of three young children - Robyn (5), Elia (3) and Blythe (1) - looked radiant in a cream jacket, black jeans, black and cream striped top and beige shoes.

Her eyes remained firmly fixed on her 28-year-old husband as he outlined their position ahead of the first day of an expected two-day appeal hearing.

"Four years ago our family came under attack for exercising our basic right to live by our Christian beliefs," he said. "We didn't say no because of the customer; we'd served him before and we'd gladly serve him again. It was because of the message. This has always been about the message."

Before heading into the building an hour before the case was due to be heard, Mr McArthur said it has been a difficult process.

"We're often asked if this has been hard for us. And, yes, it has been hard," he said. "But we don't go through this alone. Jesus Christ has been with us every step of the way."

Outside, a lone supporter, Raymond Stewart from Reformation Ireland, held up a placard that read "Marriage is honourable".

He had come, he said, "in support of Ashers" adding: "I'm here to make witness of what marriage is and raise the standard."

Also there for the McArthurs was Simon Calvert, deputy director for public affairs at the Christian Institute, who was hoping for a favourable outcome.

"Nobody is ever going to predict which way a panel of judges will go but ... an awful lot of people will just be thinking that if there's any justice in the world they ought to win," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

It has already cost the Christian Institute around £200,000 to defend the McArthurs. They "don't have any estimate yet for what it's going to cost in the Supreme Court" but, for Mr Calvert, it's a cause worth fighting for.

"We think that the lower courts just got it wrong," he said.

"We think it's a confused reasoning and the impact of the ruling, if it were true - that equality law means that you have to help promote causes that you fundamentally disagree with - then all kinds of people could find themselves on the wrong end of legal action, just like the McArthurs have."

Yesterday was simply the beginning of the latest legal chapter in a protracted and costly case that started in 2014 when gay rights activist Gareth Lee placed an order in Ashers Bakery in Belfast city centre.

He requested a cake with a slogan in support of a campaign to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, but the owners of Ashers said that it was at odds with their Christian beliefs.

A Belfast County Court judge ruled in 2015 that the bakery discriminated against Mr Lee on the grounds of his sexuality and the firm was also ordered to pay £500 compensation to Mr Lee, whose legal action was backed by the Equality Commission.

Twenty months ago, the McArthurs were both standing in almost the same spot as yesterday when they spoke of their disappointment after the Court of Appeal rejected their appeal against the previous judgment.

They then vowed to take their fight to the Supreme Court; a move backed by Northern Ireland's Attorney General, John Larkin, who arrived at court yesterday around 9.55am.

Meanwhile, Mr Lee, who was also dressed in a navy suit, almost slipped into court unnoticed at 9.35am.

Dr Michael Wardlow from the Equality Commission, who arrived half an hour later, spoke on Mr Lee's behalf and said he was "quite surprised" by Mr McArthur's statement ahead of proceedings.

"Both the lower court and the Court of Appeal have said that the law, as currently constituted, strikes the right balance between people holding and professing religious or political convictions particularly in the area of receiving services," he said.

"The Equality Commission is not trying to do anything other than say this is settled law."

Confirming that the case has cost the Commission £150,000 so far, Mr Wardlow said he believed it was "a good use of public money".

"Four years on, Gareth really had hoped it would've been finished," he said.

"We're disappointed that we're back here today."

The court's judgment on whether Ashers is guilty of unlawful discrimination is expected to be handed down later this year, or possibly in early 2019.

But what's another few months for the McArthurs, who've already been waiting for almost 1,500 days?

Belfast Telegraph

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