A government agency in the U.K. is threatening to haul a Christian-owned bakery in Northern Ireland into court over its refusal to make a cake promoting gay marriage.
The independent Equality Commission now claims that Ashers Baking Co. engaged in political as well as religious and sexual orientation discrimination. The agency wants the company to pay money damages to the customer and apologize for violating the country's equity laws, otherwise it will commence legal action. Presumably, the bakery will also be required to honor all such cake orders in the future.
As The Inquisitr previously reported, the controversy started in May when a customer who reportedly is an LGBT activist ordered a celebration cake from the company's Belfast store with a gay marriage slogan along with a picture of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street and the logo of the activist group Queerspace. Ashers refused.
Ashers is a family-owned business which operates six stores in Northern Island and employs about 60 workers.
A press release from the Equality Commission detailed what was contained in a 16-page letter to the bakery's lawyers: "In its letter the Commission stated that they would prefer not to have to litigate these issues and sought an acknowledgement that there has been an unlawful breach of the equality laws and an assurance that this will not be repeated. It made clear that the claimant will be seeking only modest damages for the upset and inconvenience caused and that, failing this, a civil bill will be issued."
Ashers' lawyers are apparently prepping to defend the company in court.
Daniel McArthur, the general manager, previously explained that his shop declined to decorate the gay-themed cake in question because it was at odds with the company's Christian principles particularly insofar as traditional marriage is concerned. The customer subsequently lodged a complaint with the Equality Commission.
Same-sex marriage is not legal in Northern Ireland, although it is elsewhere in the U.K.
Last week, McArthur explained that "We feel that the Equality Commission [is] pursuing us because of our beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman. It feels like a David and Goliath battle because on one hand we have the Equality Commission who are a public body, they're funded by taxpayers' money, they have massive resources at their disposal, whereas we are a small family business, and we have limited resources at our disposal."
He also said that the bakery will serve any customer, regardless of lifestyle, race, religion, or political opinion. But when it comes to same-sex marriage, "We don't want to be forced to promote a cause which is against our biblical beliefs."
An official with The Christian Institute, a U.K. think tank that is backing Ashers, said that "It is simply baffling for a body supposedly working for equality to be threatening a Christian family with legal action, all because of a cake... If supporting same-sex marriage is a protected political opinion, so is supporting traditional marriage. Yet the Commission clearly favors one view over another and is prepared to litigate to prove it."Since it appears that there may be about 100 bakeries in Belfast alone, does it not seem like finding an alternative vendor (as was actually done in this instance) would be the most effective way to handle a situation of this nature without getting lawyers, judges, and politicians involved?
Along these lines, a lesbian couple who own a T-shirt business recently spoke up for a Christian-owned Kentucky company in legal jeopardy that declined to produce gay pride T-shirts on the basis of religious principles. "We feel this really isn't a gay or straight issue. This is a human issue. No one really should be forced to do something against what they believe in. It's as simple as that. And we feel likewise," one of the owners declared.
On this side of the Atlantic, several bakeries have gotten themselves into controversies similar to that facing Ashers.
In May, Masterpiece Cakeshop in the Denver area that was ordered to bake a cake for a same-sex ceremony decided to exit the wedding cake business (straight or gay) entirely. A state judge and the Colorado Civil Rights Commission found the bakery owned by a devout Christian cannot legally refuse service to a customer on the basis of sexual orientation. Despite the store owner's religious objections, the owner's policy violated Colorado's Anti-Discrimination Act, authorities concluded. The case is on appeal.
Similarly, an Oregon bakery that refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple faces about $150,000 in fines for allegedly violating the state's Equality Act, a penalty that apparently could bankrupt the owners. Amidst the headline-making controversy, Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Oregon, owned by Christians Aaron and Melissa Klein, closed down and is now a home-based business.
Should businesses have the right to abide by religious tenets in the way they run their day-to-day operations without government interference or is that unacceptable when individual rights allegedly appear to be implicated?