Ashers Baking Company owners Daniel and Amy McArthur have stated that God has been ‘bringing about good’, despite the Belfast Court of Appeal ruling against them in November.
The couple told Sky News how their beliefs about marriage have been rooted in the ‘unchanging truth of the Bible’ and, although they have been dragged through huge legal proceedings after turning down a customer’s request to decorate a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan, they were convinced God ‘remains in control’.
The case against the owners of the bakery in Northern Ireland — where gay marriage has not been legalised — was brought by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. The family was accused of political and sexual discrimination after they refused to make a cake with the campaign slogan, ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
Message, not person
County Court Judge Isobel Brownlie previously ruled that the McArthur family had discriminated against Gareth Lee on grounds of his personal sexual orientation. The family disputed this, arguing it was the political message, not the person, with which they disagreed, and that it was in their right to refuse to endorse a message which was diametrically opposed to their conscience and religious belief.
The Christian Institute’s Legal Defence Fund provided support for the McArthurs, but following an appeal, in which the Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and two other senior judges upheld the original finding against the McArthurs, the Christian Institute (CI) has called for the law to be changed to protect freedom of conscience.
Simon Calvert, deputy director for public affairs at the CI, commented, ‘Equality laws are there to protect people from discrimination, not to force people to associate themselves with a cause they oppose.
‘But those same laws have become a weapon in the hands of those who want to oppress anyone who dissents from the politically correct norms of the moment. The law needs to change before more damage is done’.
Although the judges recognised that the family did not refuse the service because Mr Lee was gay, they nonetheless ruled that refusing the order because of its slogan ‘was direct discrimination’.
After the judgment was delivered, Daniel McArthur spoke outside court of his family’s deep disappointment at losing their high profile court action. He said, ‘We’re extremely disappointed with today’s ruling. If equality law means people can be punished for politely refusing to support other people’s causes, then equality law needs to change. This ruling undermines democratic freedom. It undermines religious freedom. It undermines free speech.
‘We had served Mr Lee before and would be happy to serve him again. The judges accepted that we did not know Mr Lee was gay and that was not the reason we declined the order’.
Infringement of freedom
‘We have always said it was never about the customer; it was about the message. The court accepted that. But now we are being told we have to promote the message even though it’s against our conscience. What we refused to do, was to be involved with promoting a political campaign to change marriage law’.
Mr Calvert added, ‘Any company whose owners believe their creative output says something about them and their values has been put at risk by this interpretation of the law. We’ll work with the family and their lawyers to see what options for appeal remain open’.
The court also heard from Attorney General for Northern Ireland John Larkin QC, who said if the County Court ruling against Ashers was right, the laws used against the bakery fall foul of Northern Ireland’s constitutional law.
He said, ‘Although the case for the plaintiff is put pleasantly and with every appearance of sweet reasonableness, what cannot be disguised is that the defendants are being compelled, on pain of civil liability, to burn a pinch of incense at the altar of a god they do not worship. The constitutional law of Northern Ireland, supplemented by the ECHR, resists such a compulsion’.
Even members of the LGBT community questioned the decision to bring the case against Ashers in the first place. Founder of Stonewall Peter Tatchell told The Guardian in February, ‘In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas’.