The Ashers "gay cake" case has so far cost more than £100,000 in litigation costs, it has been disclosed. This compares to an original cost of £36.50 for the cake itself.
The rising costs were revealed as Northern Ireland's Attorney General, John Larkin QC, intervened to argue that Northern Ireland's anti-discrimination laws discriminate against people who hold certain religious beliefs.
Ashers Baking Company, of Belfast, is owned and run by the McArthur family who have spoken about their faith throughout the case.
The case arose after LGBT activist Gareth Lee asked for a cake to be decorated with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage". The order was declined by the owners because it promoted same-sex marriage, not because the customer was gay. It was the message the bakery was objecting to, not the customer, according to the Christian Institute, whch is supporting the McArthurs.
Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute said: "The Attorney General has decided to intervene, using his constitutional power to raise questions about the validity of the legislation used against the McArthurs.
"And it is clear from the decision taken by the three judges, including the Lord Chief Justice, that he has raised matters of importance. These will now be fully argued when the appeal comes before the court in May.
"By the time the full hearing takes place it will be two years since the cake at the centre of what has become a legal, political and theological saga was ordered.
"So far, the case has generated legal costs on both sides which, combined, have broken the £100,000 barrier.
"The McArthur family's legal costs are well over £50,000 and I'm sure the Equality Commission's costs are at least as high.
"People are entitled to ask whether the Equality Commission should have chosen to bring the legal action over a £36.50 cake.
"But the McArthur family had no choice but to defend themselves. For them there is a lot more at stake than a cake, or the £500 damages they were ordered to pay by the county court, because they are being punished for having mainstream, deeply-held religious beliefs.
"Those beliefs don't leave them when they leave church on a Sunday. Nor can they be thrown off when they leave home for work.
"They are committed, every minute of every day, to trying to follow the teachings of Christ, including his plain teaching about the nature of marriage. For that reason they could not help promote same-sex marriage by making the campaign cake they were asked for.
"Now a £36.50 cake has cost £100,000. And that's before today's hearing, and the lengthy hearing expected to run for several days in May."
He said it was 665 days since the cake was ordered on 9 May, 2014 and the different parties are still a long way from a legal resolution.
The McArthurs previously refused other cake printing orders which included pornographic pictures and offensive language becayse they conflicted with the teachings of their Christian faith.
The legal action against Ashers Baking Company is being funded by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland which is supports same-sex marriage. Its website states: "The Commission supports the introduction of legislation permitting same sex marriage…including sufficient safeguards for religious organisations."
Same-sex marriage is legal in the Republic of Ireland and throughout the UK, except for in Northern Ireland where it has been rejected several times by the executive. A legal challenge to the ban is currently pending.