Newly-appointed junior Northern Ireland minister Andrew Murrison has said that a bakery that refused to bake a cake supporting same-sex marriage must comply with discrimination laws.

Asher’s Baking Company, a Christian-owned bakery in Northern Ireland, last month refused the request of a gay rights activist for a cake showing the message ‘Support Gay Marriage’, above an image of Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie.

The Equality Commission has since stated that this act broke anti-discrimination laws.

Wading in to the controversy, the new junior minister, who serves under Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers, told the News Letter businesses should not be allowed to discriminate.

He said: “Before I voted for [same-sex marriage], I consulted with the Attorney General because my worry was that churchmen and churches would be obliged to do things which their consciences told them they really could not.

“I was given a reassurance at that point that the legislation was such that that would not arise and on that basis I was prepared to support this particular measure.

“However, I think if you’re opening your premises for business you have to comply with the discrimination legislation.

“So, whilst I can understand the disquietude of the small business concerned, since they are I understand people of deep religious conviction, I have to say that in terms of running their business they have to comply with the law and the law, I think rightly, prevents discrimination against gay people.”

Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute, which is supporting the bakery in legal action, claimed: “It’s very disappointing that Mr Murrison has chosen to intervene in this way.

“He appears to be pre-judging the issue and pronouncing Ashers’ guilt without apparently being fully aware of the facts and the law.

“Ashers did not turn away a customer, they simply refused to take part in a PR campaign for gay marriage because it went against their religious conscience.

“The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland recognise this distinction, indeed Ashers have been overwhelmed with public support.

“It’s just a shame the minister didn’t take time to find out what was really going on.”