A leading campaigner for gay equality in Northern Ireland has hit back at criticism of a placard carried at last weekend’s Belfast Pride by stating he is convinced Jesus was a gay man.

Belfast City councillor Christopher Staltford led calls for restrictions on future gay parades, claiming he was offended by a placard reading “Jesus is a fag.”

In a discussion on BBC Radio Ulster P A MacLochlainn responded that in his view the details of Jesus’ life as presented in the Bible led him to conclude that he was a homosexual.

“I believe that a 33-year-old unmarried rabbi living in Israel, in the time that he was living and having a favourite friend among the apostles called John, was quite clearly a gay man,” he said.

“I am entitled to that belief as a gay Christian. Christ, if he were alive today, would be on the parade with us, on the side of the underprivileged, not standing superciliously at the side looking on like Christopher.”

Councillor Staltford, a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, argued that the placard was designed to upset Christians and was not in the spirit of tolerance and respect that Pride is meant to represent.

Belfast Pride is habitually picketed by groups of fundamentalist Christians, but usually passes off peacefully.

Mr MacLochlainn said that he would not be censored, and he is entitled to think of Jesus as gay.

Councillor Staltford called for the Northern Ireland Parades Commission, which decides whether individual protest marches or parades in the province can take place, to intervene.

“Whether the organising committee sanctioned the placard, or simply turned a blind eye, questions must be raised by those funding such events and the Parades Commission should be looking into the need for restrictions on any further parade,” he said, according to the Irish Times.

“Christians all over the province, and indeed, the world will be disgusted by this slur. If such provocative claims were made against Muhammad, Muslims would rightly be up in arms. It is about time those who regulate such public displays clamp down on those continually attacking Christianity and the Christian values of this country.”

The DUP is closely linked with the Free Presbyterian Church, which are both led by Ian Paisley.

The party was challenged in May over a grant from a government department to Belfast Pride.

A Free Presbyterian preacher demanded that a DUP government minister block a grant to Pride, calling it a “celebration of sodomy.”

Edwin Poots, the DUP minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, is renowned for his homophobic opinions.

As a councillor in Lisburn he tried to ban gay and lesbian couples from holding civil partnerships in the town hall.

However, Mr Poots said he would not be intervening in the grants process.

Free Presbyterian minister Ivan Foster told the Belfast Telegraph:

“If it turns out that financial support for a celebration of sodomy is sanctioned by a member or office bearer of the Free Presbyterian Church, then it will underscore the utter futility of the power sharing agreement that has been put together by the DUP and Sinn Fein.

“Far from the DUP elevating the morals of society, it seems that the DUP is going to come down to the level of morality that society demands.”

The Free Presbyterian Church mounts a yearly counter-protest against Belfast Pride at the City Hall.

Last year they even tried to get the Parades Commission to ban the event outright.

However, Commission chairman Roger Poole described Belfast Pride as, “a welcome addition to the streetscape of Belfast and a colourful and positive celebration of all lifestyles which co-exist in the city.”

Free Presbyterian protesters infiltrated the march in 2006, handing out extracts from the Bible in protest.

Belfast Pride has been held every year since 1991.