The anti-discrimination laws intended to protect homosexual consumers in Northern Ireland actually discriminate against Christians, the nation’s most senior lawyer will be allowed to argue in a case against a baker.
Ashers Baking Co. is appealing a lower court ruling that found the company violated the anti-discrimination protections by refusing to fulfill a customer’s request for a cake celebrating “gay marriage.”
According to the Christian Institute, which is representing Ashers, a Belfast court of appeal has decided to allow Attorney General John Larkin to present evidence at a hearing in May that Northern Ireland’s anti-discrimination laws impose unfair discrimination against those who hold certain religious beliefs.
Simon Calvert, deputy director of the institute, described the court case as a “legal, political and theological saga.”
In a preliminary hearing Thursday, Larkin said “there was a theological context to the way sexual orientation regulations were considered in the case,” the institute said.
“And judges led by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan agreed there was a point of law that should be considered on the issue,” according to the institute.
“The attorney general has decided to intervene, using his constitutional power to raise questions about the validity of the legislation used against the [bakery owners] McArthurs,” Calvert noted. “And it is clear from the decision taken by the three judges, including the lord chief justice, that he has raised matters of importance.”
The Belfast Telegraph reported Morgan said, “We are satisfied that there is an issue about whether or not the relevant statutes give rise to direct discrimination issues which is more than frivolous and vexatious.”
A county court in Belfast ruled a year ago that the bakery discriminated against customer Gareth Lee by refusing to provide a cake celebrating a same-sex marriage, and the company was ordered to pay him about $750.
“Lawyers for the McArthurs are also expected to argue that they had protection under the European Convention on Human Rights,” the report said.
Larkin explained the “issue of political and religious discrimination is direct” and the ramifications are “potentially enormous.”
WND reported when the hearing in the case before the appeals court was suddenly postponed because of Larkin’s intervention.
At issue was whether the European Convention on Human Rights was being violated by the local regulation that could force people to advocate for homosexuality.
Testimony in the case at the lower court revealed the bakery owners didn’t know, or care, about any customer’s sexuality, but the requested message violated their Christian faith, and the European Convention on Human Rights gives them the right to refuse to put it on one of their cakes.
“I have changed my mind. Much as I wish to defend the gay community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion,” he wrote.
He said the lower court’s ruling that found Ashers breached Northern Ireland’s Equality Act and Fair Employment and Treatment Order, which “prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the respective grounds of sexual orientation and political opinion” perhaps wasn’t the best result.
“It pains me to say this, as a long-time supporter of the struggle for LGBT equality in Northern Ireland, where same-sex marriage and gay blood donors remain banned. The equality laws are intended to protect people against discrimination. A business providing a public service has a legal duty to do so without discrimination based on race, gender, faith and sexuality.
“However, the court erred by ruling that [Gareth] Lee was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and political opinions. … His cake request was refused not because he was gay, but because of the message he asked for. There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order,” he wrote.
Such a conclusion is a bad precedent, he said.
He continued: “This raises the question: should Muslim printers be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed? Or Jewish ones publish the words of a Holocaust denier? Or gay bakers accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? If the Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far-right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-migrant and anti-Muslim opinions. It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes or print posters with bigoted messages.”
Similar cases have arisen in the United States, where courts have fined, penalized, threatened and intimidated Christian business operators, including bakeries in Oregon and Colorado and a photographer in New Mexico, for refusing to promote homosexuality with their professional talents, as WND’s Big List of Christian Coercion shows.
See the bakery owners’ statement: