The Presbyterian Church has condemned as "unjust" a decision by the North's Equality Commission to take a civil legal action against Ashers Baking Company for refusing to bake a cake for a customer promoting same-sex marriage.
The commission, in a letter to the company, which employs 62 people, said it would initiate legal proceedings against Ashers unless it acknowledged that it was in breach of equality legislation and unless it paid compensation.
Ashers in turn accused the Equality Commission of engaging in a “David and Goliath” action against the company because as a Christian bakery “in conscience” it would not bake the cake for the customer.
In July the commission warned the bakery it could face prosecution after it refused an order for the cake which was to feature the Sesame Street puppets, Bert and Ernie, with their arms around one another.
The slogan on the cake was to state “Support Gay Marriage” and to feature the logo of Queerspace, a gay, bisexual and transgender volunteer organisation based in Belfast.
At the time, Ashers’ 24-year-old general manager, Daniel McArthur, said they were happy to bake cakes for anyone, but could not fulfil that particular order as it clashed with the ethos of the business.
Mr McArthur, who is supported by the British Christian Institute, said of this latest development: "We feel that the Equality Commission are pursuing us because of our beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman. It feels like a David and Goliath battle because on one hand we have the Equality Commission who are a public body, they're funded by taxpayers, they have massive resources at their disposal whereas we are a small family business and we have limited resources."
Simon Calvert, a spokesman for The Christian Institute, accused the commission of taking four months "to dream up new grounds" on which to pursue Ashers.
The commission said that it would prefer not to have to litigate and that the customer would be seeking “only modest damages for the upset and inconvenience caused”.