An equality body that supported a gay man in his legal battle against Ashers Bakery says it has been vindicated.
The chief commissioner of the Equality Commission, Michael Wardlow, claimed the landmark victory at a court in the North was clear and robust.
The Christian owners of the bakery were found to have discriminated against a gay man when they refused to make a cake carrying a slogan that promoted same-sex marriage.
Mr Wardlow said: “We want to act with generosity because this is the reason we are here. We are here to help people who could not otherwise help themselves.”
A judge at Belfast County Court found that Ashers Baking Company acted unlawfully by declining the request from gay rights activist Gareth Lee last year.
Ordering the company to pay damages of £500 (€695), district judge Isobel Brownlie said religious beliefs could not dictate the law.
Mr Wardlow said: “It sends out the signal confirming the law as we understood it. It says to people who take part in commercial enterprises that they must act within the anti-discrimination framework.
“The judge did say she respected the strongly held faith of those who work for Ashers but she said when she was applying the fair balance here it was clear, looking at case law, that the current anti-discrimination law provides that fair balance.
“This actually vindicates the reason for an organisation like the Equality Commission to be in existence.
“We started off by saying that we believed that there had been a discriminatory act. The judge has upheld it — that both under sexual orientation regulations, political and religious opinion, that there were discriminatory acts.”
Ashers owner Daniel McArthur said he was extremely disappointed.
“The ruling suggests that all business owners will have to be willing to promote any cause or campaign, no matter how much they disagree with it,” he said, claiming the commission had suggested businesses who acted like his should close down.
“That cannot be right but we won’t be closing down,” he said. “We certainly don’t think we have done anything wrong and we will be taking legal advice to consider our options.”
DUP assembly member Paul Givan accused the commission of using the “blunt instrument” of the courts to “drag” a Christian family through the legal process.
Robin Allen, who represented the commission in court, said if a bakery run by a gay man refused to ice a cake saying ‘support opposite-sex marriage’ it would be equally unlawful..
John O’Doherty from gay rights group the Rainbow Project said that while some people might be sympathetic to the position in which the company finds itself, it does not change the facts.
“The judge clearly articulated that this is direct discrimination for which there can be no justification.”
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