Craigavon Borough Council has called on the Northern Ireland Equality Commission (NIEC) to drop the ‘single sex marriage cake case’ against Ashers Bakery of Newtownabbey.
The vote was 13-8 along unionist-nationalist lines, with Sinn Fein members insisting that the council was treading on legal ground, with the case already activated.
The gay community had called in the NIEC after Ashers refused to provide the cake, promoting gay marriage. They contended it went against their Christian principles, with the request for a ‘Bert and Ernie’ cake, the so-called gay icons from Sesame Street.
The proposal was tabled by Councillor Philip Moutray, on the grounds that it would have serious financial implications for the Ashers, and that a Bill of Rights, aimed at changing the legislation, had been introduced at the NI Assembly by Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan.
Mr Moutray added, “I am appalled at the targeting of a small bakery, contrary to its Christian beliefs. The commission has tens of thousands of pounds of public money at its disposal. Ashers haven’t resources like that, and this could place 60 jobs at risk.
“This isn’t just a Protestant protest. Some of the most vocal opponents (against the NIEC move) are from the Roman Catholic community.”
Councillor Johnny Buckley said, “This type of action is not untypical of the NIEC. Their willingness to race to the aid of what is clearly a homosexual set-up against this Christian-owned company speaks volumes of their inbuilt bias.
“This will be their 18th sexual orientation case since 2008, but despite increasing discrimination against Christians in the workplace and elsewhere, they have yet to take up cases on behalf of Christians. They have a budget of £10 million to play with.”
Councillor Joe Nelson said he recognised the Ashers dilemma, but did not agree with political interference in the work of the commission. “Still, they should have bigger fish to fry in areas like housing and employment,” he added. “They are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”
At this stage, Sinn Fein sounded a warning on the council treading on legal ground. Councillor Gemma McKenna said, “The case is ongoing and we must await the result”, while Liam Mackle commented, “This is all down to the DUP having a crack at the commission.”
It then went to a recorded vote, with all unionists backing the Moutray motion, Sinn Fein against, and SDLP abstaining.
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