Ashers bakery is back in court tomorrow. What will it mean if it loses?

Daniel McArthur general manager of Ashers bakery speaking to the media outside Laganside court in Belfast in March 2015.Reuters

Judgment is expected tomorrow in the Ashers Bakery case, which has divided opinion in Northern Ireland and much further afield.

The bakery has been at the centre of a court case arising from the managers' decision to cancel a commission it received for a cake with an image and slogan in support of gay marriage. The customer who placed the order reported the bakery to Northern Ireland's Equalities Commission, which brought the case because it said it "raises issues of public importance regarding the extent to which suppliers of goods and services can refuse service on grounds of sexual orientation, religious belief and/or political opinion".

Ashers, which is backed by the Christian Institute, said that it was "taking a stand" on an issue of religious freedom. It argued that it was not discriminating against someone because of their sexuality but because of the message on the cake. It has won support from many in the community, with rallies and speeches in its favour attracting large crowds.

The cake that was produced by another bakery.Twitter

MLA Paul Givan – backed by other Democratic Unionist members and supported by churches on both sides of the confessional divide – argues that there should be a 'conscience clause' allowing people to opt out because of sincerely-held religious beliefs, though this campaign will not affect tomorrow's judgment.

Ahead of the judgment, Ashers' General Manager Daniel McArthur said: "It's been a difficult and exhausting time for us as a family but God has been faithful to us. And he has given us the strength to deal with this, and we know and trust in him that going forward he will continue to give us his strength."

He spoke of the comfort the family had received from Psalm 22, saying: "When I'm reading it I'm thinking about what Jesus has been through, and what He's been through for me and for our family, and I know that if he's been through that, God in turn will give us the strength to deal with the trials which we have to go through.

"We do want to say thank you to the thousands of people who have supported and prayed for us, we're very grateful and certainly your prayers would be much appreciated as we move forward.

"We also would like to thank The Christian Institute for their help during a difficult and exhausting time for us and our family, and we're thankful to God as well who has been faithful to us through it, and we know that he'll continue to help us bear this burden as we go forward in the future."

If Ashers wins its case:

Gay rights supporters will argue that it represents a blow to equality in the province and is a sign that gay people can legally be treated differently from heterosexuals. There's also potential for confusion and litigation about precisely when a service provided for a gay person can be construed as implying support for homosexual practice. However, it would be a popular decision with many who argue that taxpayers' money should never have been spent on the case and that mediation would have been a more appropriate way forward. Supporters of Ashers argue that it was only the promotion of a particular message that they objected to and that the fact it was in support of gay marriage is not the key issue.

If Ashers loses its case:

The implications are arguably far-reaching. Lawyers for the plaintiff, Gareth Lee, said that Ashers were being asked to carry out a purely mechanical process which did not imply that they endorsed the message on the cake. Ashers' lawyer told the court that on that basis a Muslim printer would not be able to refuse a commission to print cartoons of Mohammad, an atheist baker would have to make a cake declaring that God made the world in six days and a gay baker would have to make a cake saying "Gay sex is an abomination".