‘Gay cake’: Many patrons say Ashers should have right to refuse

Customers at Belfast bakery very opinionated on case, but many unwilling to give names

There was a steady stream of customers at Ashers bakery on Royal Avenue in central Belfast on Tuesday afternoon. Apart from a French family, the people buying breads, cakes, sandwiches, sausage rolls and buns were familiar with the latest chapter of the so-called ‘gay cake’ case.  Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

There was a steady stream of customers at Ashers bakery on Royal Avenue in central Belfast on Tuesday afternoon. Apart from a French family, the people buying breads, cakes, sandwiches, sausage rolls and buns were familiar with the latest chapter of the so-called ‘gay cake’ case. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

 

There was a steady stream of customers at Ashers bakery on Royal Avenue in central Belfast this afternoon.

Apart from a French family, the people buying breads, cakes, sandwiches, sausage rolls and buns were familiar with the latest chapter of the so-called “gay cake” case.

All the customers had something to say about Monday’s Court of Appeal decision, which found Ashers had discriminated against gay rights activist Gareth Lee by refusing to sell him a cake with the message “Support Gay Marriage”, along with a picture of Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie.

Nearly all preferred for their names not to be used. They had an opinion, but did not want to be embroiled in an argument between the sacred and the secular.

One woman from Co Derry, who was buying a box of a dozen assorted doughnuts for her daughter, who is in university in Belfast, said she was “disappointed” by the result but offered her name (more on that issue below).

Private business

“Ashers are a private business and I think they should be allowed do whatever they want,” she said. “I mean if they were asked to bake a cake with the Isis emblem on it, then they should be able to refuse that. At the same run, I would not discriminate against anyone - everyone live and let live.”

She said she believed Ashers did not intend “to discriminate against anyone but they have a faith and a conscience that they have to abide by - and they should be able to do that”.

The woman rushed off, but five minutes later was back saying she had been “reprimanded” by her daughter and asking that her name not in fact be used.

She said she had gay friends and absolutely no antipathy to the LGBT community, but regardless of the reprimand, still stood by her view that the McArthur family which owns the Ashers shop had been hard done by.

A middle-aged bearded man enjoying a coffee with his wife at a table outside the shop said he wasn’t a Christian - “although I do believe in God” - but he felt Ashers should have been entitled to refuse Mr Lee his cake.

He noted how current estimates of the legal cost of the case vary between £150,000 and £200,000 (€167,700-€223,600), and observed, “I have nothing against gay people but I think the whole thing is a farce - I mean, over a cake?”

Eoin, a 21-year-old student from the nearby Ulster University, said he regularly shopped in Ashers “because the food is good and it’s cheap”.

He also supports gay marriage. But he had misgivings about the decision by Mr Lee and the North’s Equality Commission to take the case in the first place.

Right in conscience

“It’s complex but I think I have come around to the position that they have a right in conscience to refuse an order - I think it may have been overblown by the LGBT community,” he said.

A middle-aged woman also sitting at a table enjoying a Coke and a pink mille-feuille vanilla slice said that if she had been behind the counter she would have sold the cake to Mr Lee.

“I would have baked the cake and in a nice way made my point to Gareth Lee about what I believed.”

Ann McFarlane did give her name. She was over on a mid-week break from Glasgow. While Scottish, she was familiar with the case.

She supported the McArthurs. “I felt sorry for them because as a nation - and I am talking about the British nation - we need to get back to God and his ways for the good of mankind. At the moment common-sense is turned on its head,” she said.