A leader in the LGBT community has reversed his stance regarding an embattled bakery in Northern Ireland that was found guilty of discrimination last year for refusing to make a cake that included a message supporting same-sex marriage.
On Monday, British human rights advocate Peter Tatchell penned a piece for the Guardian expressing regret for "initially condemning" Ashers Baking Company in Belfast for refusing to make a cake that included the words "Support Gay Marriage."
"It pains me to say this, as a long-time supporter of the struggle for LGBT equality in Northern Ireland, where same-sex marriage and gay blood donors remain banned," he wrote. "The equality laws are intended to protect people against discrimination. A business providing a public service has a legal duty to do so without discrimination based on race, gender, faith and sexuality.
"However, the court erred by ruling that Lee was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and political opinions. His cake request was refused not because he was gay, but because of the message he asked for. There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order."
On Wednesday, Ashers Baking Company, which is being supported by the Christian Institute, a U.K. legal group, will appeal last year's court ruling that demanded that the company pay $765 in damages.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, bakery owner Daniel McArthur said he and his wife were launching their appeal to protect the rights of Christians in the workplace.
"The big factor for us in going to appeal is that it is not just for ourselves but also for other Christians working in business or, like us, owning a business. Hopefully, if we can win the appeal it will give them additional rights and say that you can be a Christian and hold Christian beliefs outside the home or the church without feeling threatened," they said in a statement,
The McArthurs added that the judge's ruling seemed to trample Christian ideals and that it would have a negative impact on society.
"Our hope and prayer would be that an appeal will allow us and other Christians to live out their faith in Jesus Christ in every part of their lives, including their workplace," they said.
In his article, Tatchell warned that the court's finding of political discrimination against the bakery "sets a worrying precedent" as Northern Ireland's laws against discrimination were never intended to "compel people to promote political ideas with which they disagreed."
"The judge concluded that service providers are required to facilitate any 'lawful' message, even if they have a conscientious objection. This raises the question: should Muslim printers be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed? Or Jewish ones publish the words of a Holocaust denier? Or gay bakers accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? If the Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far-right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-migrant and anti-Muslim opinions. It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes or print posters with bigoted messages."
He concluded: "In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas."
The name "Ashers Baking Company" comes from Genesis 49:20, which reads, "Out of Asher his bread shall be fat and he shall yield royal dainties".
"I have been a Christian since I was about five and Amy was also very young when she became a Christian," Daniel told the Belfast Telegraph. "My father and grandfather had been bakers based in Sandy Row in Belfast and my father decided that if ever he ran his own bakery he would call it Ashers after that tribe of Israel."