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Ashers 'did not break discrimination law', lawyer argues

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The barrister representing Ashers Baking Company has stated that the McArthurs did not break discrimination law by refusing to bake a cake promoting same-sex 'marriage'.

The McArthurs, who are in court this week appealing a discrimination ruling made against them last year, are being represented by David Scoffield QC.

Yesterday Scoffield told the Belfast Court of Appeal that discrimination cannot be made against an idea or an object: "To say you can discriminate against the orientation of a cake is nonsensical."

The appeal has been allocated a four-day hearing.

Discrimination ruling 

Daniel and Amy McArthur first faced threats of legal action in 2014, after their bakery refused to bake a cake featuring the slogan "support gay marriage" and the characters Bert and Ernie, from Sesame Street.

LGBT activist Gareth Lee had ordered the cake, requesting that it also feature the logo of pressure group QueerSpace, where he volunteered.

Mr Lee, backed by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, said that this amounted to discrimination.

Judge Isobel Brownlie, sitting at Belfast Court on 19 May last year, ruled that the bakery had "directly discriminated" against the customer, on grounds of sexual orientation.

Freedom to object 

David Scoffield QC, argued in court yesterday that the bakery did not break discrimination law, as the objection was made towards the cake's message, not the customer.

The McArthurs had been unaware of Mr Lee's sexual orientation when he asked for the cake to be made.

"If a heterosexual person had asked for the same message on the cake they would have had the same response," Scoffield said.

"They could not in conscience provide a product with a message that was inconsistent with their deeply-held religious beliefs in circumstances where the evidence was clear that they believed that to do so would be sinful."

European human rights laws 

A previous appeal hearing this March was unexpectedly adjourned after the Attorney General, John Larkin QC, raised issues with the court regarding discrimination and equality legislation.

A request was made at the last minute to make representation in the case about any potential conflict between the region's legislation on sexual orientation and European human rights laws.

Yesterday Scoffield pointed to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which contains protections on freedom of speech. This, he said, includes the right not to impart information.

"There is a right to remain silent. If that applies to not having to pass on information, how much more does it apply when someone is asked to create the message?"

The ECHR also protects the right to hold and express religious beliefs. 

Wider significance 

Towards the end of yesterday's proceedings, the Lord Chief Justice recognised the wider significance of the case, by asking the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland to explain how to balance the rights of Christians and of those who identify as homosexual.

He also asked how Christian business owners can protect themselves in cases such as these.

Throughout the court proceedings, Daniel and Amy McArthur have insisted that their actions have only been motivated out of "love for God."

Despite the challenges they have faced, they have acknowledged how God has used their situation for good.

"This case has been a blessing in our marriage," said Amy. "God has used this to strengthen our marriage and our relationship with God. We have to trust in him and we have seen him answer our prayers time and time again."

The hearing continues this week.

Related Links: 
In court today: 'Ashers did not break discrimination law' (Christian Institute) 
Christian bakers appeal against ruling they broke law by refusing order for cake with pro-gay marriage slogan saying 'it would have been a sin' to make it (Mail)