Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin QC expressed his view on the case filed by gay activist Gareth Lee against Christian-owned Ashers Baking Company. He said that it was not right to force the defendants to express a political opinion that contradicts their religious beliefs.
"No one should be forced to be the mouthpiece for someone else's views when they are opposed to their own – whether in print or in icing sugar," said Larkin in his argument at the appelate court, as quoted by WND. He was also quoted by Belfast Telegraph as saying, "The wrong occurs, and can amount to cruelty, to make someone say something fundamentally at variance with their political opinion or religious views."
In 2014, the McArthurs, who run the bakery, were sued by Lee for having refused to make a cake with Sesame Street characters Ernie and Bert along with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage." A lower court judge ruled last year that they were guilty of discrimination. The appeal was initially scheduled to be heard in February but was moved to May. According to WND, Larkin asked for the delay so he could present arguments regarding the issue of people being forced to express views that they disagree with, which violates freedom of speech.
"The attorney general has decided to intervene, using his constitutional power to raise questions about the validity of the legislation used against the [bakery owners] McArthurs," said Christian Institute spokesman Simon Calvert. "And it is clear from the decision taken by the three judges, including the lord chief justice, that he has raised matters of importance."
Gay activist Peter Tatchell, although very much in favor of LGBT equality in Northern Ireland, said that he wants also "to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion." In his view, the lower court was in error when it ruled against the McArthurs.
"A business providing a public service has a legal duty to do so without discrimination based on race, gender, faith and sexuality," he wrote on The Guardian in February. "However, the court erred by ruling that [Gareth] Lee was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and political opinions. ... His cake request was refused not because he was gay, but because of the message he asked for. There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order."
He emphasized his point by asking if gay bakers should accept orders for cakes decorated with homophobic slurs, or if Muslim printers should be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed or Jewish printers to publish a person's denial of the Holocaust.
"If the Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far-right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-migrant and anti-Muslim opinions," he said. "It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes or print posters with bigoted messages."
The four-day hearing at the appeals court ended on Thursday, and the ruling is expected to be revealed in a few weeks.