Northern Ireland

'Gay cake' case: Northern Ireland Attorney General says judgement against Ashers was wrong

The Ashers Baking Company shop in Belfast city centre Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Ashers Baking Company was found to have discriminated over its refusal to make the cake

Northern Ireland's Attorney General, John Larkin, has told the Court of Appeal that the judgement in the case against a Christian-run bakery that refused to make a cake bearing a slogan supporting gay marriage was wrong.

Last year, Ashers Baking Company was found to have discriminated against a customer who placed the order in 2014.

It is trying to overturn the ruling.

The appeal was scheduled for earlier this year, but was halted after an intervention from Mr Larkin.

Mr Larkin was granted permission to take part in the case after senior judges decided Larkin had raised an arguable case that sexual orientation laws in Northern Ireland directly discriminate against those who hold religious beliefs or political opinions.

On Tuesday, Mr Larkin gave legal submissions.

He told the court that "this case is about expression".

Image copyright QueerSpace
Image caption Ashers told the customer his requested slogan was against their Christian faith

Mr Larkin said if it was the case where the customer Gareth Lee has "been refused some of Ashers excellent chocolate eclairs because he was gay or perceived to be gay then I would be standing on the other side of court".

"But it's not about that, it's about expression and whether it's lawful under Northern Ireland constitutional law for Ashers to be forced ... to articulate or express or say a political message which is at variance with their political views and in particular their religious views," he added.

He added that Mr Lee's sexual orientation is of "supreme irrelevance" to Ashers.

The McArthur family, the owners of the Belfast shop, has said their case has implications for freedom of expression across the UK.

A barrister for the family told Belfast's Court of Appeal on Monday there was no contractual obligation to provide the cake.

"This was not a refusal to sell a cake, it was about the refusal to sell this particular cake," he said.

'Not abusive of religion'

A barrister for Mr Lee said on Tuesday that the McArthur family were not being forced to do anything against their beliefs.

He said many businesses printed messages they did not associate with, citing the example of posters made by candidates fighting last week's Assembly election.

The lawyer for Mr Lee said a flier advertising the service and the fashion in which the order was taken was evidence that it was not a forced act.

"It is no more forced speech than any of the delivery merchants or the post office or any of the companies that printed the numerous hoardings around Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland for the Assembly elections this week."

Lord Justice Weir, one of three appeal judges asked if it could be argued that "support gay marriage" was blasphemous.

The barrister for Mr Lee told the court it was not blasphemous, because the campaign for gay marriage was a civil recognition.

"It's not abusive of religion to say support gay marriage," he added.

He said Mr Lee was not asking Ashers to promote anything.

"Just because you ice a cake with Larne Ladies Football Club doesn't mean you support them, even if all your staff were arch rivals of Larne Ladies Football Club," he said.

The hearing continues.

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