BELFAST, Northern Ireland (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Christian family in Northern Ireland is appealing to the U.K. Supreme Court after two lower courts upheld discrimination charges against the Christian owners for refusing to bake a cake in support of homosexuality.
After over two years in the U.K. court system, the Supreme Court is agreeing to hear the case of Daniel and Ann McArthur, owners of Ashers Baking Company in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in October 2017.
In May 2014, Gareth Lee, an LGBT activist, ordered a cake featuring the image of Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie with the phrase "support gay marriage." McArthur refused to make it, maintaining its message went against his Christian belief.
Lee sued, claiming the refusal to bake his cake made him feel "like a lesser person" and complained to the taxpayer-funded Equality Commission for Northern Ireland which slapped McArthur with a £500 fine — about $640.
McArthur appealed, and in May 2015, a district judge ruled against him, deciding the baker is a for-profit business and not a religious group. "Hence," says the judge, "the bakery illegally discriminated against Lee based on his sexual orientation and his political beliefs." It further noted that Irish law "must protect the rights of the defendants to have and to manifest their religious beliefs but it also recognizes the rights of the plaintiff not to be discriminated [against] because his sexual orientation must also be protected."
An appeal in October 2016 withheld the opinion in the first case.
McArthur commented he was against the message the cake would have conveyed and not against Lee personally, adding, "We never meant to cause anyone any offense, but at the same time, as Christians, we've certainly felt victimized by the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland."
He noted that people have been calling them homophobes, adding, "I think whenever we've been called those names, the people calling them maybe don't fully grasp the arguments and what's at stake," said Daniel. "Or that as Christians, how our beliefs affect every part of our lives, including running our business, and the decisions that we make in our business."
In a press conference after losing the appeal, McArthur commented, "If equality law means people can be punished for politely refusing to support other people's causes then equality law needs to change. This really undermines democratic freedom, it undermines religious freedom and undermines free speech."
On May 3, the McArthurs refused to bake a cake ordered by another gay-marriage activist who requested a cake with the phrase "gay marriage rocks."
It seems, however, that many people agree with the McArthur's religious freedom because despite the two-year legal battle and negative publicity, they grossed nearly $220,000 in profits for 2016.
Northern Ireland is the only region in the United Kingdom that has not legalized so-called same-sex marriage.