Actor Patrick Stewart has said that he supports a Northern Ireland bakery's right to refuse to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage message.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) last week fined the Ashers Baking Company £500 for refusing to make a cake featuring Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie with the caption “Support Gay Marriage” and the logo for QueerSpace, a Belfast-based LGBT rights group. Currently, gay couples cannot marry in Northern Ireland.

Owners Colin and Karen McArthur have said that they plan to appeal the ruling.

Appearing on BBC's Newsnight, Stewart, a strong supporter of LGBT rights, defended the owners, saying that he backs their right “to say no.”

“It was not because this was a gay couple that they objected. It was not because they were going to be celebrating some kind of marriage or agreement between them. It was the actual words on the cake that they objected to,” Stewart said.

“They found them offensive. I would support their right to say 'no, this is personally offensive to my beliefs and I will not do it.' I felt bad for them that it cost them 600 quid, or whatever,” he added.