Belfast-based Ashers Baking Company is exploring further legal options after a judge last month ruled against the business over its refusal to make a cake supporting gay marriage.

Two years ago, gay rights activist Gareth Lee asked Ashers to supply a cake marking International Day Against Homophobia and depicting Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie alongside the motto ‘Support Gay Marriage’.

Ashers refused to do so as the message on the cake went against the owners’ Christian beliefs, and Lee took the business to court where it was found guilty of discrimination.

The bakery last month lost an appeal against that decision, when Court of Appeal judges said that, under law, “bakers were not allowed to provide a service only to people who agreed with their religious beliefs”.

Lawyers for the McArthurs have now written to the Court of Appeal asking it to confirm that no direct route of appeal to the Supreme Court is available.

In civil cases, such as Ashers’, the Court of Appeal decision seems to be final, said The Christian Institute, which has backed Ashers general manager Daniel McArthur and his wife Amy.

European Court of Human Rights

If there is no right to appeal to the Supreme Court, Ashers would still have the option of attempting to have their case heard at European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, if they decided to do so.

In the letter to the Court of Appeal, Belfast solicitors firm Hewitt & Gilpin wrote: “In view of the complexity of these issues, and the wider public importance which this case clearly has, and in order to make clear that the appellants [Ashers] have exhausted their domestic remedies … we respectfully invite the Court of Appeal to consider giving a short ruling on the question of whether appeal to the United Kingdom Supreme Court is available in this case”.

Family business Ashers was established in 1992 by Daniel’s father Colin McArthur. The business has previously refused other cake printing orders including pornographic pictures and offensive language, said the institute.

The Christian Institute said there may be a court hearing in the “next few weeks” to deal with administrative matters such as costs. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which took the case against Ashers, want the McArthur family to pay the costs of the legal proceedings, added the institute.