Northern Ireland

'Gay cake' row: Andrew Muir calls for mediation

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Media captionCouncillor Andrew Muir, the first openly gay mayor in Northern Ireland, has called for mediation to avoid the court case

The two sides involved in Northern Ireland's "gay cake" legal dispute have been urged not to go to court - by the person for whom the cake was intended.

It began when a Christian-run bakery refused a customer's request to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan, saying it was at odds with its beliefs.

Later it will face a discrimination case taken by the Equality Commission.

The cake was a gift for Andrew Muir, Northern Ireland's first openly gay mayor. He has now called for mediation.

'Adversarial'

Mr Muir is not directly involved in the discrimination legal action, but in a last-minute intervention, he told the BBC the court battle was "not an ideal test case".

"Unfortunately it's pitched people of religious belief against lesbian and gay people and I think that's very sad. It's not the type of society that I want in Northern Ireland where we have that adversarial set up," Mr Muir said.

The pro-gay marriage cake was originally ordered from Ashers last year, for a civic event in Bangor Castle Town Hall, County Down, to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Mr Muir, an Alliance councillor for the area, hosted the event but did not personally place the order. The cake was intended as a gift for him.

'Taking a stand'

The customer who did place 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.

The firm refused to compensate the customer, saying it was "taking a stand" on the grounds of religious freedom and has attracted support from Christian organisations.

Mr Muir was later presented with a replacement cake from another bakery which agreed to accept the order.

Speaking ahead of the court hearing in Belfast, Mr Muir said: "There should always have been mediation in relation to this matter and if there's an opportunity for mediation today and tomorrow, let's go for that.

"Let's try to resolve this outside the court because legal action should always be the last resort."

Bert and Ernie

Image caption Councillor Andrew Muir was photographed cutting a replacement cake at a gay rights event last year, after Ashers Bakery refused the original pro-gay marriage cake order

Ashers Bakery were asked to bake the cake by a gay rights activist, who wanted the cake to include a slogan that said "support gay marriage" along with a picture of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street, and the logo of the Queerspace organisation.

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."

On Tuesday evening, more than 2,000 people gathered at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast to show their support for Ashers.

The court case is expected to last two days.

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