A cleric who is prepared to go to jail by opposing new gay rights laws in Northern Ireland, has criticised the Assembly for failing to stop the legislation, prompting criticism from gay groups.

The Sexual Orientation Regulations, which protect the LGBT community from discrimination in goods and services, are due in Northern Ireland next month, but the Reverend Eric McComb, a Pentecost Church minister, says the law only passed through because politicians “lack the moral fibre” to oppose it.

It comes after Assembly members failed to agree on a motion regarding the regulations at Stormont last week.

Mr McComb told the Belfast Telegraph: “One of the saddest things for me in the recent Stormont debate was the sight of leading Catholic politicians, individuals I know and respect on a personal basis, backing the new Bill.

“By looking over their shoulders in the context of the forthcoming elections they effectively declined to show the moral courage to actually come out and even acknowledge that there was a legitimacy to those opposed to the Gay Rights movement.

“We make no apology about taking this stand. The Pentecostal movement, on the basis of Holy Scripture, views homosexuality as being deviant and sinful.”

However, the minister has been accused of being scared of an open debate on the issue.

Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association president PA MagLochlainn told the paper, “We are not intent on ramming anything down anyone’s throat, these regulations do not attack any of their religious beliefs, they can teach what they like. They are about equal rights.

“That is why I am prepared to meet and discuss the regulations with him to show that they are not as drastic as he thinks.”