The First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland are reportedly at loggerheads over the introduction of EU legislation granting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people equal rights.
An agreed position on the Gender, Goods and Services Directive must be reached by December 21st or the Northern Ireland Executive faces fines and legal proceedings.
A committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly was presented with a letter from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) yesterday, stating that the First Minister Ian Paisley objected to the new law.
The departmental letter made no mention of the view of his Sinn Fein deputy, Martin McGuinness, who has been a strong advocate for gay rights and is thought to support the EU directive.
The letter to the committee said Dr Paisley is, “not agreeable to the explicit inclusion of reference to transgender or gender reassignment in the regulations because of concern over definition and possible impacts on business owners and service providers”.
However, it is thought that Dr Paisley and his DUP colleagues are concerned the new directive could compel a bed and breakfast owner with homophobic Christian opinions to provide a room to a gay or lesbian couple.
“The objection is that Christians could be forced to take part in things which they morally find that they can’t,” said DUP committee member Stephen Moutray.
“Bible-believing Christians would be put in a position where they could have to take part in ceremonies at gay weddings, or if they were a guesthouse owner, they would have to give a double room to two gay men.”
Because of the structure of the power-sharing executive, both the Sinn Fein and DUP ministers in the OFMDFM must come to a common position on the directive.
The nationalist SDLP were angry that Mr McGuinness’s position has not been made clear.
Answering questions in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 26th November the Deputy First Minister said:
“Consultation on the gender goods and services directive sets out the Department’s plan to transpose the European directive that implements the principle of equal treatment between men and women in the access to and supply of goods and services.
“Just over 240 responses were received. The First Minister and I will take account of those responses as we make our final decisions.
“A consultation report is also being prepared for publication. An initial assessment of the consultation responses was provided to the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister in order to facilitate its response to the consultation exercise.”
The DUP have a long history of opposing LGBT rights. In 1977, Ian Paisley launched the “Save Ulster From Sodomy” campaign in an attempt to prevent the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the province, which eventually happened in 1982.
Numerous DUP officials have been accused of homophobia, most recently Ian Paisley Jnr.
In May he told a magazine:
“I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong. I think that those people harm themselves and – without caring about it – harm society.
“That doesn’t mean to say that I hate them. I mean, I hate what they do.”
He has refused to apologise and remains in government as a junior OFMDFM minister.