The general manager of Ashers Baking Company, Daniel McArthur, has said that 'some people want the law to make us support something with which we disagree' as the controversial 'gay cake' case went before the Supreme Court today.
The highest court in the UK is sitting in Belfast today and tomorrow, considering an appeal in the protracted legal action against Ashers by the Equality Commission.
Ashers has mounted a vigorous defence, supported by the conservative pro-family campaign group, the Christian Institute.
The appeals comes after a county court judge decided the company had broken political and sexual orientation discrimination laws.
The judge ruled against Ashers, run by the McArthur family, who are Christians, for refusing to fulfil an order to make a £36.50 cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage because it conflicted with their religious beliefs.
Arriving outside the court, accompanied by his wife Amy, McArthur said: 'Four years ago, my family came under attack for exercising our basic right to live according to our beliefs.
'We were asked to use our creative skills to endorse a message at odds with everything we believe – and were sued because we said we couldn't do that.
'We didn't say no because of the customer; we'd served him before, we'd serve him again. It was because of the message. This has always been about the message.
'But some people want the law to make us support something with which we disagree.'
He added: 'We're often asked how this case has impacted us as a family. It's been hard.
'But we're not on our own and we continue to trust daily in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to equip us with everything we need.
'Before him none of us [has] any rights. But he graciously forgives and pours out blessings on those who trust in him.
'It is in him that the truest freedom can be found.'
But also speaking outside the court, Dr Michael Wardlow from the Equality Commission Northern Ireland said the case is about a business being accountable to 'settled laws' when offering services in public realm, not about quashing convictions or views.
The Christian baking company was found to have discriminated against Gareth Lee by refusing to bake him a cake with the slogan 'Support Gay Marriage'. The family-run business was taken to court by Lee, backed by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, and ordered to pay £500 in compensation – a decision that was later upheld by the Court of Appeal in Belfast in October 2016.
Now escalated to the UK's top court, the case has highlighted the tension between equality laws and religious freedom with a last-minute intervention by Northern Ireland attorney general suggesting the case could raise questions about the legitimacy of Northern Ireland's legislation.
John Larkin QC suggested the equalities laws used against the company may contravene Northern Ireland's commitment to the European Court of Human Rights. He said the case was 'about expression and whether it's lawful under Northern Ireland constitutional law for Ashers to be forced...to articulate or express or say a political message which is at variance with their political views and in particular their religious views.'
The case will be heard almost four years to the day after they first refused to bake a cake for Lee. Ashers' general manager, Daniel McArthur, said the decision was nothing to do with Lee's sexuality but because of the slogan supporting gay marriage he wanted on the cake.
In 2016 Ashers lost its appeal at the Royal Court of Justice in Belfast with judges finding found 'this was direct discrimination' because it would not have objected to a slogan that supported heterosexual marriage.
The issue was Ashers 'would not provide a cake with a message supporting a right to marry for those of a particular sexual orientation', the court ruled.