The Ashers Baking Company is considering whether to launch an appeal after it was found guilty of discrimination against a gay rights advocate by refusing to bake him a cake with a slogan promoting same-sex marriage.
At Belfast County Court on Tuesday Judge Isobel Brownlie ruled in favour of gay rights activist Gareth Lee and the North's Equality Commission in the so-called Bert and Ernie gay cake case.
Ashers, which has six shops in the greater Belfast area, was prosecuted for refusing to bake a cake with the message “Support Gay Marriage” and featuring the Sesame Street characters with their arms around one another.
Ashers, which is run by the McArthur family and managed by Daniel McArthur (25) was fined an agreed £500 in damages which Mr Lee is to donate to charity.
Ashers is liable for the cost of the case. The UK-wide Christian Institute, which supported Ashers, estimates the overall cost will be about £39,000.
Mr McArthur said he was “extremely disappointed” with the result. “We will be taking legal advice to consider our options,” he said.
Asked about the possibility of an appeal Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute said they would consult with the McArthur family and their lawyers and "explore every option for an appeal".
In her judgment, Judge Brownlie said the company was not a religious organisation but was “in business for profit”. She found Ashers was “guilty of unlawful discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation” and said this was “direct discrimination for which there can be no justification”.
She accepted that the McArthurs’ religious views were “genuine and deeply held” but their business was not above the law. She said they would have been aware of the debate over same-sex marriage in the North.
“They must have known or had the perception that the plaintiff was gay. They must have known that the plaintiff supported gay marriage or associated with others who supported gay marriage,” she said.
Judge Brownlie said they were in a business supplying services to all. “The law requires them to do just that.”