Christian bakery found guilty of discrimination over gay marriage cake will appeal
The Christian owners of a bakery discriminated against a gay man when they refused to make a cake carrying a slogan that promoted same-sex marriage.
A judge at Belfast County Court found that Ashers Baking Company acted unlawfully by declining the request from gay rights activist Gareth Lee.
Ordering the company to pay damages of £500, District Judge Isobel Brownlie said religious beliefs could not dictate the law.
She said: "The defendants are entitled to continue to hold their genuine and deeply-held religious beliefs and to manifest them but, in accordance with the law, not to manifest them in the commercial sphere if it is contrary to the rights of others."
The Northern Ireland Equality Commission, which monitors compliance with the region's anti-discrimination laws, brought the landmark legal action on behalf of Mr Lee.
Ashers, owned by the McArthur family, was supported by the Christian Institute, which paid their legal costs.
In their evidence, the McArthurs, who employ 80 people across six branches that deliver throughout the UK and Ireland, said they were opposed to gay marriage on religious grounds.
Throughout the hearing, Ashers general manager Daniel McArthur sat beside wife Amy.
He said he was "extremely disappointed" with the verdict.
He said: "We won't be closing down, we certainly don't think we've done anything wrong and we will be taking legal advice to consider our options for appeal."
Mr Lee sat impassively on the other side of the dock, flanked by male and female friends.
Delivering her 90-minute judgment to a packed courtroom, District Judge Brownlie said: "The defendants have unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff on grounds of sexual discrimination. This is direct discrimination for which there can be no justification."
Mr Lee, a member of the LGBT advocacy group Queer Space, wanted a cake featuring 'Sesame Street' puppets Bert and Ernie, with the slogan Support Gay Marriage, for a private function in Bangor, Co Down, to mark International Anti Homophobia Day. He paid in full when placing the order at Ashers' Belfast branch but said he was stunned when, two days later, the company phoned to say it could not be processed.
The judge told the court she believed that if a heterosexual person had ordered a cake with graphics promoting "heterosexual marriage" or simply "marriage", the order would have been fulfilled. "It is the word 'gay' to which the second and third defendants took exception, the connotation of gay marriage which the defendants regarded as sinful."