LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Christian bakery in Northern Ireland that refused to make a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage may be facing legal action under anti-discrimination legislation.
The controversy was sparked when the order was placed at the Belfast branch of Ashers Baking Company, which is run by Christians and named after one of the 12 Tribes of Israel.
Northern Ireland is the only region of the UK that still prohibits same-sex marriage. England and Wales legalised the practice in July 2013, with Scotland following suit in February of this year. The Republic of Ireland will hold a referendum on legalisation in spring 2015, with polls suggesting a substantial majority in favour.
General manager Daniel McArthur defended the bakery’s position in a video statement uploaded by the Christian Institute, a British charity which seeks to promote the Christian faith in the UK.
"We thought that this order was at odds with our beliefs," he said. "It certainly was in contradiction with what the Bible teaches, and on the following Monday we rang up the customer to let him know that we couldn’t take his order."
As well as the slogan, the cake was to feature pictures of Bert and Ernie, two characters from children’s television show “Sesame Street”, alongside the logo of the gay rights campaign group Queerspace. It was ordered for an event to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
McArthur said around six weeks after the order was declined the bakery received a letter from the Equality Commission to say it had discriminated against the customer on the grounds of his sexual orientation.
Malachi O’Hara of the Rainbow Project, an LGBT advocacy group in Belfast, said the cake controversy "could be resolved very easily with an apology".
He said he did not want to see the matter go to court but added his organisation would "support legal proceedings if it comes to that."
Same-sex couples married in other parts of the UK have their unions recognised as civil partnerships in Northern Ireland, a situation O’Hara described as untenable. In April, Amnesty International said a legal challenge was inevitable.
According to data generated by the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey and interpreted by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast, 59 percent of inhabitants now support legalising same-sex marriage. The survey also found that those who said gay relationships are "always wrong" fell from 76 percent in 1989 to 28 percent in 2012.