UPDATE: Patrick Stewart has clarified his remarks in a facebook post. Click here for the latest.
Actor Patrick Stewart has taken the side of the Christian bakers in Northern Ireland in what some have dubbed the “gay cake” debate, supporting the right of the bakery to refuse to make a cake with a marriage equality message.
Ashers Bakery, which operates a chain throughout the British province, last month lost a court battle over the order to create a cake with images of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street and the words, “support gay marriage.”
The McArthur family, which owns the chain, were found guilty of discrimination and fined the equivalent of $763. "This is direct discriminaton," wrote Judge Isobel Brownlie in her ruling, "for which there is no justification."
The McArthurs say they will appeal.
Stewart, a straight ally who in January declared, "supporting gay rights is natural, said nobody should be forced to write something they disagree with.
"It was not because it was a gay couple that they objected, it was not because they were celebrating some sort of marriage or an agreement between them," said Stewart. "It was the actual words on the cake they objected to. Because they found the words offensive."
He continued: "I would support their rights to say no, this is personally offensive to my beliefs, I will not do it."
Ashes operates a chain of stores in Northern Ireland which deliver cakes across the province and to the UK. The Belfast shop at first accepted the order placed in May 2014 by LGBT activist Gareth Lee, to commemorate International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Then the shop refused to make the cake, claiming it conflicted with its owners' sincerely-held religious views. On May 19th, the court ruled the refusal was antigay discrimination.
The Northern Ireland Equality Commission brought the case against Ashers on behalf of Lee.
"Ashers agreed to make the cake. They entered into a contractual agreement to make this cake and then changed their mind. While sympathetic as some may be to the position in which the company finds itself; this does not change the facts of the case," The Rainbow Project's director, John O'Doherty told Belfast Live.
Daniel McArthur and his wife, Amy, the Christian owners of Ashers, vowed they would not close their company and were defiant after the ruling, telling reporters: "We will not be closing down, we have not done anything wrong."
Northern Ireland remains the U.K.'s last bastion of marriage inequality. A rally is planned in support of legalizing same sex marriage later this month.
Click below to watch the BBC Newsnight interview with Stewart: