'Gay cake' case: Ashers Baking Company says making slogan cake 'would be sinful'
A Christian-run bakery that refused to make a cake bearing a slogan supporting gay marriage could not in conscience produce a cake that they felt would be sinful, their lawyer has said.
Last year, Ashers Baking Company was found to have discriminated against a customer who placed the order in 2014.
The owners of the Belfast shop are seeking to overturn that judgement.
The McArthur family has said their case has implications for freedom of expression across the UK.
A barrister for the family told Belfast's Court of Appeal on Monday there was no contractual obligation to provide the cake.
"This was not a refusal to sell a cake, it was about the refusal to sell this particular cake," he said.
"They could not, in conscience, provide a product with a message that was inconsistent with their deeply held religious beliefs in circumstances where the evidence was clear that they believed that to do so would be sinful.
"If a heterosexual person had bought the cake, they would have had the same response."
He told the appeal judges the crucial question was why the order was not fulfilled.
"The issue is the extent to which those who hold such religious convictions can be required by the law to act in a manner inconsistent with their convictions," he added.
He said it would be "extremely difficult" for businesses to run bespoke services "if faced with the position that someone could... order something which is clearly objectionable".
LGBT activist Gareth Lee placed the order for the cake featuring the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie and the logo of the QueerSpace campaign group exactly two years ago on Monday.
He paid for the cake in full but was later told the company could not fulfil his order.
He claimed this made him "feel like a lesser person".
The Northern Ireland Equality Commission, which oversees the region's equality laws, brought a case against Ashers on his behalf.
A judge said religious beliefs could not dictate the law and the company agreed to pay damages of £500.
Arriving at the appeal court on Monday, Daniel McArthur, the general manager of Ashers, said he hoped the judges would not require the company to "endorse a view that goes against our conscience".
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where same-sex marriage remains illegal.
"Two years ago today we were asked to help promote a campaign to redefine marriage in Northern Ireland," said Mr McArthur.
"We never imagined that two years later we would find ourselves still living with the consequences of that request.
"This was never just a case about one little bakery in Belfast.
"It's always had implications for freedom of expression throughout the UK."
The hearing is set to take place across four days before Northern Ireland's lord chief justice and two other senior judges.