An Ulster Unionist councillor has taken back a series of comments he made in which he compared homosexuality variously to a “disease” and a “disability” during a debate on marriage equality.

According to Liam Clarke of the Belfast Telegraph, Jackie Crawford made the controversial comments while discussing a Sinn Fein motion on marriage equality at a meeting of Magherafelt District Council last week.

In arguing against the motion - which was ultimately passed 10-5 – Mr Crawford said: “It’s a pity they have that disease and they can’t help it.

“It’s the same as you being born with a disability. They can’t help what they are.

“I know gay people and they are nice people and not bad people but they should not be getting married.”

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Crawford said he remained opposed to marriage equality based on his interpretation of the bible, but that he regretted comparing same-sex orientation to an illness.

He said: “If I had to say it again I wouldn’t use the word disease.

“I am not condemning homosexuals. I simply meant that they are born that way and it is not something they choose; ‘disease’ was a slip of the tongue and I regret using the word.”

He concluded: “I have nothing against civil partnerships – as long as they are not getting married.”

Earlier this year, Lord Maginnis of the UUP referred to homosexuality as “unnatural and deviant” in a debate on marriage equality. He said gay marriage rights were “not something private like your marriage or my marriage, this is something aggressive and demanding”, claiming gay relationships were not “equal” and would “devalue” marriage.

In an email to the think tank the Policy Exchange in July, copied to the Northern Irish Newsletter newspaper, Lord Maginnis insisted he was “not homophobic” but said he would seek to jeopardise the organisation’s income because of it’s decision to publish a paper in support of equal marriage rights.