The Christian owners of Ashers Baking Company, who were found guilty of breaching U.K's equality laws for refusing to bake a cake supporting gay marriage, has been allowed to take their case to U.K.'s highest court.
The U.K. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the legal arguments of a possible appeal by the Belfast-based bakers at a two-day hearing scheduled for October this year.
"The fact that the Supreme Court is willing to hear arguments is very encouraging and reflects the importance of the issues and the high-profile nature of the case," Ashers Baking Company Manager Daniel McArthur said in a statement, as reported by Premier.
The bakery has incurred an estimated $258,000 (£200,000) in legal bills and was forced to pay $657 (£500) in damages to gay rights activist Gareth Lee after the owners refused to bake a customized wedding cake with a pro-marriage slogan. The bakery owners argued that it was inconsistent with their religious beliefs, but they maintained that they are not "homophobic."
Ashers launched an appeal in October last year, but the Court of Appeal in Belfast upheld the original County Court judgment in December.
McArthur and his wife, Amy, are being supported by The Christian Institute in their legal battle.
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at the Institute, said that the Supreme Court's willingness to hear the case is a "very important development."
"The Supreme Court does not consider every case which is brought to its attention and our legal team has already started to prepare for the crucial hearings which lie ahead," Calvert said.
"We understand the Supreme Court will hear initial arguments from which they will then determine if they are to grant a full appeal hearing," he added.
Calvert noted that the full hearing will take place immediately if the judges agree to the appeal. He contended that the original ruling handed down by the Belfast court undermines both religious freedom and free speech.
It has been reported that Ashers has seen its profits soar in 2016 despite the controversy. The company has posted accumulated profits of £1.5 million ($1.63 million) for 2016, up from £1.3 million ($1.63 million) in the previous year.
The company has seven outlets across Northern Ireland and delivers throughout the U.K. and the Republic.