A Northern Ireland bakery run by devout Christians could face legal action after they refused to make a gay-themed cake depicting Sesame Street couple Bert and Ernie.
Ashers Baking Company have pasted a statement on their website defending their decision to refuse to bake the cake as the slogan above the puppets was to support gay marriage.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where gay marriage is still not legal. That ban is expected to face a legal challenge later this year, firstly in the high court in Belfast, with the possibility of the action going all the way to the European court of human rights.
In their online statement, the company’s general manager, Daniel McArthur said: “The directors and myself looked at it and considered it and thought that this order was at odds with our beliefs.
“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 said the company had offered to fully refund the customer, who wanted to have the campaign slogan from the pressure group ‘Queerspace’ on the cake.
The 24-year-old businessman, whose firm was established in 1992, runs six shops in the region and employs 62 people, confirmed they have received a letter from the Equality commission.
He said: “We thought that was the end of it, but approximately six weeks later we received a letter from the Equality commission. The Equality commission’s letter said that we had discriminated against the customer on the grounds of his sexual orientation.”
McArthur said he was “very surprised” by the watchdog’s letter and his firm asked the Christian Institute for advice on how to deal with the case.
The institute is supporting the bakery’s stance and is now providing legal assistance.
McArthur said: “I feel if we don’t take a stand on this here case, then how can we stand up against it, further down the line?”
The general manager added that it was not the first time his company had refused customers’ cake orders.
“In the past, we’ve declined several orders which have contained pornographic images and offensive, foul language.”
The Equality commission for Northern Ireland said: “In this case the commission has granted assistance to the complainant, and has written to the company concerned on his behalf. The commission will consider any response before taking further action.”