The trial of a bakery which refused to bake a pro-gay marriage cake has gone into its second week at the High Court in Belfast. 

Regular customer Gareth Lee placed an order with Ashers Baking Company, in Belfast, but was later told by the bakery that they could not fulfil the request for a cake topped with a picture of Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie, alongside the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’.

Christian Karen McArthur, a director at Ashers, told the court she had initially accepted the order, which had been fully paid for, to avoid a “confrontation”.

“In my heart, I knew I would not be able to put that (slogan) on the cake,” she said, adding that she did not want to “embarrass” the customer in the bakery.

Ashers’ solicitors argued that the business took issue with the cake, not Lee or his sexuality.

But Robin Allen QC, for the Equality Commission, which brought the case, said that businesses could not turn down custom based on “religious scruples”.

The Equality Commission, which champions complaints of those who claim to have been discriminated against on the grounds of their religion, race, age, gender or sexuality, is seeking damages against Ashers. It said that if the bakery was allowed to refuse to do business with a minority group, a precedent would be set for discrimination.

Christian charity the Christian Institute is backing Ashers in the case, which it says proves the need for the law to reasonably accommodate family-run businesses with firmly held beliefs.

The cake, ordered to celebrate International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia on17 May 2014, was supplied by another bakery.