Once again a Christian baker is threatened with paying thousands of dollars in fines for refusing to bake a cake stating its support for same-sex “marriage” – this time in Northern Ireland.
The Equality Commission of Northern Ireland has ordered a Christian bakery to pay compensation to a homosexual activist or face legal action for having refused to make a cake with the phrase “support gay marriage.”
Colin and Karen McArthur, a Christian couple who run seven shops around Northern Ireland, own Ashers Baking Company. The name of their cake shops is taken from the Bible: Asher is one of the tribes of Israel known for its skilled bakers.
Earlier this year Ashers bakery in Newtonabbey was approached by Gareth Lee of the homosexual advocacy group QueerSpace to make a cake for an event in observance of the “International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.”
Lee asked for a cake decorated with the slogan “support gay marriage,” along with the QueerSpace logo and a picture of Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie.
Ashers' general manager Daniel McArthur told Lee that he declined the request on conscience grounds, noting that the wording and graphics on the order clashed with the Christian ethos of the business.
McArthur pointed out that Ashers has refused other orders in the past, such as images incorporating nudity or offensive language, and offered Lee a refund of the his deposit, which the homosexual activist reportedly accepted.
“It certainly was at odds with what the Bible teaches, and on the following Monday we rang the customer to let him know that we couldn’t take his order,” McArthur told BBC News.
Although the McArthurs believed the situation was settled amicably, considering online photos of the QueerSpace event in May showed that the group was able to get a cake decorated the way they had wanted, Lee subsequently filed a complaint against Ashers with the taxpayer-funded Equality Commission.
In June, the commission sent the McArthurs a letter saying the refusal breached the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006, which prohibits “discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities, and services to a person seeking or obtaining to use those goods, facilities or services on the grounds of sexual orientation,” and ordered the bakery to “remedy” its “unlawful discrimination” within seven days or be taken to court.
However, in September it was revealed that the Commission had not sought legal advice before issuing the threat of legal action against the bakery.
The commission's action elicited strong condemnation from citizens, MPs, and the Prime Minister.
The Belfast News Letter discovered that 10 days after the letter to Ashers was reported in the media, the commission's director of legal services, Anne McKernan, sent an email to chief executive Evelyn Collins saying as there had been “local, national and international” interest in the case and, “given that the matter was brought to the attention of the Prime Minister and commented upon by the media legal correspondent Joshua Rosenberg, among many, many others – I think it may be prudent for the Commission to have the views of a senior barrister.”
The commission issued a new letter to the McArthurs on October 27 saying that Ashers was now also guilty of breaching political discrimination laws, although Northern Ireland has not legalized same-sex “marriage.”
“We feel that [members of] the Equality Commission are pursuing us because of our beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Daniel McArthur said in a statement released by the Christian Institute, which is working in support of the McArthur family. “It feels like a David and Goliath battle because on one hand we have the Equality Commission who are a public body, they’re funded by taxpayers’ money, they have massive resources at their disposal whereas we are a small family business and we have limited resources at our disposal.”
He stated that the McArthurs will continue to fight for their right to refuse being forced to violate their religious convictions.
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“We’re continuing to hold to the stand that we took originally because we believe it’s biblical, we believe it’s what God would want us to do, and we also think that if we do cave in to the Equality Commission at this point it’ll put pressure on other citizens who are defending their view of traditional marriage,” McArthur said. “We don’t want to be forced to promote a cause which is against our biblical beliefs.”
The Methodist Church in Ireland released a statement condemning the Commission's action and praising the McArthurs for standing their ground in the face of legal threats. “We are deeply concerned about the decision of the Equality Commission to support legal action against Ashers Bakery following that company’s decision to refuse to make a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage,” the Methodist Council on Responsibility stated.
“We commend the company for their willingness to take a stance for the sake of conscience. If Ashers Bakery should suffer as a consequence of taking this stand how bizarre that the Commission's action would have been in the name of ‘equality.’”
The Presbyterian Church of Ireland and the Evangelical Alliance have also expressed their support for the McArthurs' conscience rights.
“It is simply baffling for a body supposedly working for equality to be threatening a Christian family, all because of a cake,” Simon Calvert, spokesman for The Christian Institute, said in a statement.
“The Commission is throwing the kitchen sink at this case, and is wasting tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money in the process,” Calvert said. “I doubt that many people in Northern Ireland will think this is a good use of their hard-earned tax money. I hope they will make their views known to the Commission.”
Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
Dr Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner
Dr Evelyn Collins, Chief Executive
7-9 Shaftesbury Square
Belfast BT2 7DP
Phone: 028 90 500 600
Fax: 028 90 248 687
E-mail: [email protected]