Baker in gay cake-bake debate places faith in God
A Christian baker said he is placing his trust in God ahead of a high-profile legal action against his refusal to make a cake bearing a pro-gay marriage slogan.
Daniel McArthur, flanked by his wife Amy, said he had been humbled by support from fellow Christians as he arrived at Belfast County Court to fight a challenge by Northern Ireland's Equality Commission.
The commission is bringing the case against Mr McArthur's family-run Ashers Bakery on behalf of the gay rights activist customer whose order was declined.
Ashers refused to make a cake with an image of Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie below the motto "Support Gay Marriage".
Ahead of this morning's hearing, Mr McArthur said: "Ashers Baking Company is, and always has been, willing to serve any and every customer who comes through our doors. We love serving people.
"Our problem with producing the cake we were asked to make last year was with the message, not the customer.
"We just didn't want to be forced to use our creative skills to help endorse and promote a campaign message that went against our sincerely held religious beliefs. We are just trying to be faithful to the Bible.
"We think it is wrong to use the laws to force anyone to say something that they oppose and hope that the court will take the same view."
The commission, which monitors compliance with equality laws in the region, has alleged that the stance of the Belfast-based company was in breach of legislation.
The case has sharply divided public opinion in Northern Ireland and beyond, making headlines across the world.
In the wake of the bakery's refusal to provide the service last May, the commission, a state-funded watchdog body, took on the case on behalf of the customer. Initially, the commission asked the bakery to acknowledge that it had breached legislation and offer "modest" damages to the customer.
When Ashers refused, the commission proceeded with the legal action.
Mr McArthur added: "There are obviously big issues at stake, not for just us, about things like freedom of conscience and freedom of expression.
"It's not easy for us being in the middle of all this. We wish it hadn't happened.
"But I would like to thank all our friends and family, and Christians from all over the British Isles and beyond for their prayers and their support.
"We have been truly humbled by the support we have received from people from all walks of life."
He thanked the estimated 3,000 people who attended a public meeting in Belfast on Tuesday to support the family.
"We don't know what the outcome of the case will be but we do know that God is faithful and we place our trust in him," said Mr McArthur.
The baker has characterised the court battle as a "David against Goliath" encounter, given the commission's access to public funds.
But with Ashers' own legal fund having been significantly boosted by many donations from Christian backers, it is arguable which side is better financed for the courtroom showdown.
Gay marriage is a highly divisive issue in Northern Ireland and, while the bakery's decision has been supported by Christian advocacy groups, it has faced criticism from gay rights organisations arguing that discrimination in delivering services is illegal.
In recent years, the devolved Assembly at Stormont has rejected several attempts to legalise gay marriage and local politicians have intervened on both sides of the bakery debate.
The cake row prompted the Democratic Unionists to propose a law change which would provide for a "conscience clause" in equality legislation - effectively giving businesses the right to refuse to provide services they believe compromise their religious beliefs.
But Sinn Fein has vowed to block the DUP's Private Member's Bill.