Ashers Baking Company, reportedly named after "bread from Asher" from a verse in the Bible, has been accused of discrimination under the Equality Act for refusing to bake a cake with a slogan stating "Support Gay Marriage". It was also to feature the Sesame Street puppets, Bert and Ernie, with their arms around one another.
The McArthur family, who own Ashers Baking Company in the Belfast area, said they could not fulfil the order because it conflicts with their Christian beliefs about marriage being between a man and a woman.
The customer, Gareth Lee's who placed the order complained to the Equality Commission, and the watchdog took up the case, warning Ashers, that it had allegedly discriminated against the man on the grounds of his sexual orientation.
An opinion poll carried out by ComRes on behalf of the Christian Institute, which is supporting Ashers Bakery suggests that seven out of ten of Northern Ireland's adults oppose legal action being taken against a bakery.
Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute said: "This is simply about whether someone should be forced to promote a message with which they profoundly disagree and everyone ought to have that freedom not to be forced to promote a message that they don't agree with."
A spokesperson for the Equality Commission said: "The commission is supporting an individual taking a case before the County Court alleging discrimination under two anti-discrimination statutes - the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations NI 2006 and the Fair Employment and Treatment Order NI 1998.
"This case 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."
The civil court case opens in Belfast and is expected to conclude on Friday.
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