An appeal in the Ashers "gay cake" case in Northern Ireland was halted at the last minute this week after an intervention by Northern Ireland's Attorney General.
The McArthur family, who run Ashers Baking Company, was asked to bake a cake bearing the slogan "Support gay marriage." The McArthurs, who are committed Christians, declined. They were taken to court by the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland (with £40,000 of public funds).
Judge Isobel Brownlie decided the McArthurs had unlawfully discriminated against homosexual activist Gareth Lee on grounds of sexual discrimination and they were ordered to pay £500 compensation.
They arrived at court this week expecting their appeal to be heard before Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, but the appeal was postponed after an intervention from John Larkin QC, Attorney General of Northern Ireland, apparently on the grounds of a potential conflict between Northern Ireland equality legislation and European human rights laws.
The Court of Appeal will meet in March to hear legal arguments on the compatibility of Northern Ireland law with European law, and the appeal will now not be heard until May.
Homosexual campaigner Peter Tatchell, who originally supported the claim against Ashers, announced this week that he had changed his mind. He said the claim against the bakers was well intended, but was "a step too far." The request to bake the cake was refused not because Mr Lee was homosexual, but because of the message that was asked for on the cake.
"Should Muslim printers be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed? Or Jewish ones publish the words of a Holocaust denier? Or gay bakers accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs?" There was a difference, he suggested, between discrimination against people and discrimination against ideas.
He's right. There's a big difference between having the legal right to do what you want and forcing everybody to like it.