The “gay cake row” refuses to move from the centre stage of Northern Ireland LGBT rights news. So far very little has been added to the snowballing baking furore from side of the equality commission or the legal party bringing forth the legal proceedings against Ashers bakery.
However it seems there is no stopping the campaigning from Ashers Bakery, political representatives and the Christian Institute who are now seeking a legal loophole or “conscience clause” to give services in Northern Ireland the freedom to discriminate.
The case is finally listed to be heard in the courts on Thursday and Friday of this week.
Today Peter Robinson, The First Minister of Northern Ireland has criticised the Equality Commission for spending money taking the firm to court for anti-gay discrimination.
He told the Newsletter Newspaper: “The issue here is where there are competing rights, ensuring that there is reasonable accommodation. That is what the Equality Commission have missed in all of this… When you consider that they have set aside the potential of spending £33,000 on this court case where they are seeking damages of £500 against Ashers, there is a better use that could be put to that money, particularly in the tight fiscal situation the Executive faces.”
All this from the DUP which has already spent around £40,000 on maintaining the Blood Ban on Men who have Sex with Men. The conscience clause legislation brought forward by the DUP meber Paul Givan is the parties latest move in a string of homophobic actions, objections and outbursts. If the DUP had their way we would see young LGBT persons and people struggling with their sexuality fear being refused a loaf of bread in a shop.
An Equality Commission Spokesperson said: ” We can confirm that £8,586.60 has been spent on this case to date. The final costs will be not known until the case is concluded. We can also confirm that our legal funding committee has authorised expenditure not exceeding £33,000.
“The Equality Commission has an important role in ensuring effective application of Northern Ireland’s equality laws and supports cases so that people are aware of, and can avail of, the protection these laws afford against all forms of unlawful discrimination.
“This case raises issues of public importance regarding the extent to which suppliers of goods and services can refuse service on grounds of sexual orientation, religious belief and political opinion.
The head of the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland, Michael Wardlow has defended the public bodies decision to persue the bakery in an interview with the Guardian newspaper last week.
Mr Wardlow who is also a devout follower of Christ added – “If someone here in Northern Ireland is running an establishment as a person of faith and is compelled against their will but by law to serve an LGBT person then that can hardly be said to be persecution. I can understand how they might feel in their Christian conscience that that is a difficult thing. Well, I would then say either look at the law or maybe that is not the business they should be in.”
Mr Wardlow also stressed that the ECNI has championed the cause of Christians in the recent past who refused to work shifts for firms on Sundays because of Sabbath observance. “Christians are equally protected by legislation and if anyone believes they are discriminated against because of their beliefs I would argue they should come to us.”
The Christian Institute, which is supporting Ashers, said Wardlow is “seriously mistaken” about the facts of the case.
We will bring you more updates throughout the week as the final ingredients are added to what should have been a very delicious Bert and Ernie cake.
For more information on how you can support the Rainbow Project’s #noconscienceclause campaign please visit – http://www.rainbow-project.org/noconscienceclause …