Northern Ireland’s most senior lawyer has been allowed to give detailed arguments in the Ashers Baking Company case.
Attorney General (AG) John Larkin QC has been given permission by Court of Appeal in Belfast to raise the case that anti-discrimination laws in Northern Ireland directly discriminate against those who hold certain religious beliefs.
Mr Larkin said there was a theological context to the way sexual orientation regulations were considered in the case. Judges led by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan agreed there was a point of law that should be considered on the issue. The AG’s lawyers will be allowed to make further submissions on the case when the full appeal hearing starts on 9 May.
The Christian Institute is supporting Ashers Baking Company in their stand for biblical marriage, after they were sued for turning down a request from a potential customer who wanted them to decorate a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. So far, the total cost combined for both sides is estimated to be more than £100,000.
Arguing against the AG, Robin Allen QC — the lawyer for the customer who ordered the cake — claimed the previous ruling against Ashers decided nearly all commercial activity ‘should be a religion-free and political opinion-free zone’.
In a statement, Simon Calvert, deputy director of the Christian Institute said: ‘The AG has decided to intervene, using his constitutional power to raise questions about the validity of the legislation used against the McArthurs.
‘It is clear from the decision taken by the three judges, including the Lord Chief Justice, that he has raised matters of importance. By the time the full hearing takes place, it will be two years since the cake at the centre of what has become a legal, political and theological saga was ordered.
He continued by saying the McArthurs had to defend themselves from the legal action and that much was at stake. They are, he said, ‘being punished for having mainstream, deeply held religious beliefs’.