Andrew Muir, Northern Ireland’s first openly gay mayor and the intended recipient of a cake bearing a pro-gay marriage message, has urged for “mediation” as the Equality Commission, and the Christian bakers who refused to make the cake, head to court.
Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission took up the case on behalf of a gay activist who ordered a cake from the Ashers Baking Company last year bearing the message “Support gay marriage” above a picture of the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie. The bakery’s owners declined the order as the message was “at odds” with their religious beliefs.
The case has divided Northern Ireland, and Mr Muir, who is not involved in the legal action, told the BBC he felt “very sad” that the dispute has resulted in pitching people of religious beliefs against lesbian and gay people.
He said that if there is an “option for mediation” then it should be taken, as he believes that legal action should always be the last resort.
Mr Muir eventually received the cake from another bakery, which had been ordered to celebrate International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
The case currently being heard at Belfast’s County Court, following the refusal of the bakery’s owners to acknowledge they had breached equality laws and to offer “modest” damages to the customer.
Daniel McArthur of Ashers Baking Company has accused the Equality Commission of pursuing his family because of their belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and has characterised the court battle as a “David against Goliath” encounter.
However, the legal fund for the bakery has been significantly boosted by donations from Christian backers and more than 2,000 people gathered in Belfast to show their support for the business on Tuesday night.
The court case, which started today, is expected to last for two days.
Ahead of this morning's hearing, Mr McArthur said Ashers Baking Company is "willing to serve any and every customer who comes through our doors," but that “our problem with producing the cake we were asked to make last year was with the message, not the customer."
“We just didn't want to be forced to use our creative skills to help endorse and promote a campaign message that went against our sincerely held religious beliefs. We are just trying to be faithful to the Bible.
“We think it is wrong to use the laws to force anyone to say something that they oppose and hope that the court will take the same view.”
Additional reporting by agencies