The manager of the Ashers Family Bakery has said he will continue to assert his religious freedoms as the notorious “gay cake” case heads to the U.K.’s Supreme Court. Back in 2015, the Christian baking company was found to have discriminated against a gay activist by refusing to bake him a cake with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage.”
After the customer, Gareth Lee ,filed a lawsuit, the Northern Irish bakery was ordered by the County Court to pay £500 in damages for breaching anti-discrimination laws. When Ashers general manager Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy appealed the ruling, they were denied by the Court of Appeal.
Refusing to let it go, and seeing the court’s decision as a fundamental assault on their religious freedom, the McArthurs’ fight has now reached the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, which will sit in Belfast today and tomorrow to consider this extraordinary case.
“Four years ago, my family came under attack for exercising our basic right to live according to our beliefs,” McArthur said as he arrived outside the court this morning. “We were asked to use our creative skills to endorse a message at odds with everything we believe – and were sued because we said we couldn’t do that.”
“We didn’t say no because of the customer; we’d served him before, we’d serve him again. It was because of the message. This has always been about the message. But some people want the law to make us support something with which we disagree. We’re often asked how this case has impacted us as a family. It’s been hard.”
However, despite the strain of such a protracted legal battle, McCarthur insisted that he and his family have been sustained by their deep Christian faith.
“We’re not on our own and we continue to trust daily in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to equip us with everything we need,” he declared.
Ashers Bakery has been heavily supported by the nondenominational Christian pro-life charity, the Christian Institute, which seeks “the furtherance and promotion of the Christian religion in the United Kingdom” and “the advancement of education.”
According to the Christian Institute’s website, the Ashers case “demonstrates the need for the law to reasonably accommodate family-run businesses with firmly-held beliefs,” adding that the family is “being backed by The Christian Institute’s Legal Defence Fund.”
Following a rejection from the Court of Appeal in Belfast back in October 2016, McCarthur made a speech in which he argued that “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 and it undermines free speech,” McCarthur added. “It was never about the customer, it was about the message.”
“Now we are being told that we have to promote the message even if it is against our conscience.”
Same-sex marriage is still yet to be made legal in Northern Ireland, but many political parties have begun to call for a law change. Legislation to allow gay marriage has been debated on five separate occasions in the devolved government of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Assembly, since 2012. However, such changes have been failed to come to fruition. In the most recent debate held in October 2015, 53 legislators voted in favor and 51 against.
Despite this being the first time that the Assembly had ever voted in favor of same-sex marriage, the legislation was slapped down by the conservative and pro-life Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who currently hold a slim majority in the government.
The leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, has previously described the political chaos surrounding the campaign for legalizing gay marriage as “a storm in a teacup.”
“I could not care less what people get up to in terms of their sexuality, that’s not a matter for me,” said Foster, who is the First Minister of Northern Ireland, in 2016. “When it becomes a matter for me is when people try to redefine marriage.”
It is the perpetual drive for a change in the law that the McCarthur’s, as committed Christians who hold traditional views on the sanctity of marriage, refuse to endorse through their business.
“What we refused to do was to be involved with promoting a political campaign to change marriage law in Northern Ireland,” McCarthur added. “Because we’re Christians, we support the current law and we felt that making this cake would make us responsible for its message.”
“This is a case of forced or compelled speech, unlike other cases which have come before the court,” the Ashers barrister David Scoffield QC told the Supreme Court today, as reported by the BBC.
“Mr. and Mrs. McArthur have been penalized by the state, in the form of the judgment at the county court, for failing through their family company to create and provide a product bearing an explicit slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’ to which they have a genuine objection in conscience.”
Schofield reiterated the fact that his client declined to make the cake solely due to the nature of the message they were being asked to promote.
“They would equally have refused to provide that cake with the slogan to a heterosexual customer,” he said. “Their difficulty was the content of the cake, not the characteristic of the customer.”