The Ulster Unionist Party has distanced itself from comments made by Lord Maginnis this morning that marriage for gay couples was something ‘unnatural’ that would be ‘imposed’ on society, calling it a ‘rung on the ladder’ to bestiality.

Speaking to The Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster this morning, UUP peer Lord Maginnis was introduced as a supporter of the Coalition for Marriage, which is campaigning against marriage equality.

Referring to a study by the Equality Commission in Northern Ireland which found 27 percent of people would object to a gay or bisexual person living next door, Lord Maginnis said dictating how others live their lives would be “the last thing in the world” he would want to do.

But, he added, he would be “concerned about young children, that they would be influenced by [gay neighbours]. This is not something private like your marriage or my marriage, this is something aggressive and demanding.”

John O’Doherty, Director of the Rainbow Project gay health charity appeared in favour of marriage equality saying a “two-tiered system where one group is allowed civil partnerships and one group is allowed marriage creates a system where one is seen as better than the other”.

Lord Maginnis said gay and straight relationships were “not equal”, and allowing gays to marry would “devalue” the institution.

The call for equality was, he said, “based on sexual practice”.

He added: “Does that mean that every deviant sexual practice has to be accommodated? Will the next thing be that we legislate for some sort of bestiality?”

Host Stephen Nolan asked if he was “seriously equating” homosexuality with bestiality, to which Lord Maginnis said it was a “rung on the ladder”.

Lord Maginnis added that if he had a gay neighbour he would treat him with the “same day-to-day respect” of any other neighbour, but confirmed he believed gays engaged in “deviant sexual practices”.

Mr O’Doherty said Lord Maginnis had demonstrated a “complete incapacity to recognise the love felt between gay couples. We’re not talking about sex, and this is what we hear from the Christian right all the time. They can’t talk about sexual orientation without talking about sex, I don’t know what their fascination is with same-sex couples and the sex that they have.

“I think it’s completely disgusting, some of the comments that have been made here this morning.”

Mr O’Doherty described the comments later today as “reprehensible”.

He continued: “Many LGB&T people feel isolated and vulnerable in their communities and the ridiculous claims made by Lord Maginnis only compound this isolation. What was equally worrying was that Lord Maginnis advised that young people coming to terms with their sexual orientation should seek the assistance of a physician or psychiatrist as if there is something wrong with them. This is completely unacceptable.

“Any young people listening this morning should know that, there is nothing wrong with them and that, help and support is available for them at The Rainbow Project.

“We are calling on Lord Maginnis to retract his prejudiced and uninformed comments and apologise for the damage he has caused. We are also calling on the UUP to denounce the comments made by one of its most senior Parliamentarians and to clarify the party’s position on the rights and status of LGB&T people in Northern Ireland.”

The Ulster Unionist Party said: “Lord Maginnis was speaking in a personal capacity without our knowledge or permission, and his comments do not reflect Ulster Unionist Party policy.”

The BBC reports an email by party leader Mike Nesbitt to party members saying: “Following this morning’s edition of the Nolan Show on Radio Ulster, I wish to make it clear to every member of this party, that should you wish to speak to the media on any subject, you should, in the first instance, receive clearance from the party press office.”