Northern Ireland’s First Minister threatens Equality Commission over ‘gay cake’ case

Arlene Foster

Northern Ireland’s First Minister has threatened to limit powers of the country’s anti-discrimination body, after two Christian bakers lost a legal battle.

The owners of Ashers Bakery were found guilty of unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation, after refusing to bake a cake showing the message ‘Support Gay Marriage’ above an image of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie.

Daniel and Amy McArthur, who argued in court documents that God would consider it a sin to make cakes with pro-gay messages on, have lost two court battles on the issue.

Following the case, First Minister Arlene Foster of the ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party threatened to gut the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, the independent public body which oversees equality and discrimination law in Northern Ireland.

Speaking in the Stormont Assembly, she said: “I think that one of the most interesting parts of the court judgement is the way in which the court commented on the role of the Equality Commission in the whole case. I understand that the costs that the Equality Commission has run up to date are well in excess of £100,000.

“I have to ask this question: where is the balance in dealing with faith communities in Northern Ireland? I will be asking the Equality Commission to comment directly and give me some feedback on that.”

Asked if she thought the Equality Commission “was not interested in assisting the faith community”, she said: “I agree… I think it is incumbent upon the Equality Commission to indicate to the Executive how they intend to remedy what has been pointed out to them by the court and what affirmative action they intend to take in terms of the faith communities, because there is certainly a chill factor there in terms of the faith communities and that is something that is communicated to me on a weekly basis and it is something that they have to take notice of.”

An ardent opponent of LGBT equality, Ms Foster recently vowed to keep using peace process powers to block same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, in spite of public opinion and a Parliamentary majority in favour.

Her party has repeatedly used Petitions of Concern – designed to ensure cross-community power sharing – to veto equal marriage bills. The tactic has blocked equality in Northern Ireland, even though same-sex marriage is law in the rest of the United Kingdom as well as in the Republic of Ireland.

Ms Foster claimed gay people didn’t really want to get married anyway.

She said: “I know plenty of people in that community who don’t want to see marriage redefined and are quite content to live in partnership… it’s all become a bit of a storm in a teacup.”