Northern Ireland’s Ashers Baking Company has had its appeal hearing adjourned until 9 May, after a last-minute legal submission from the Attorney General for Northern Ireland.
The Christian-run bakery was censured in 2014 after it turned down a customer’s request for a cake that would support same-sex marriage. Ashers declined to decorate a cake with the words ‘Support Gay Marriage’. The McArthur family, which owns and runs Ashers, are Christians, believing that marriage can only be between one man and one woman.
Despite UK shopkeepers having a legal right to refuse service, the McArthurs were taken to court by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. In May 2015, a district judge ruled that the bakery had breached political and sexual orientation discrimination regulations.
John Larkin QC exercised his right to raise questions over the validity of the statutory provisions used against Ashers, in light of Northern Ireland’s constitutional law. The delay will now allow the court time to consider some complicated issues. Technical arguments will be heard on 3 March and the full appeal will take place on 9 May. Four days have been allocated for the case.
The Christian Institute (CI) launched a petition supporting Ashers, which stated, ‘I support Ashers Baking Co and the McArthur family in their stand for freedom of speech and freedom of conscience’.
In a statement, the CI said, ‘Northern Ireland’s equality laws were intended to protect people, not attack them for their deeply held religious convictions. We do not believe that Ashers Baking Company has broken any laws’.