Callers into a BBC Northern Ireland programme were asked to comment on Stormont’s failure to move towards equal marriage for same sex couples, with some callers, and a Presbytarian Reverend featured on the show, saying that being gay should be made illegal.

PinkNews founder Benjamin Cohen appeared on The Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster alongside Reverend David McIlveen, a well-known minister in the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster who is strongly opposed to gay rights.

Reverend McIlveen is the father of David McIlveen, a Democratic Unionist Party politician in Northern Ireland who was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly for the North Antrim constituency in 2011.

One caller named Bill said: “I have some sympathy for these so-called gay people, but they have a serious, sexual, mental illness, which is treatable. The government should look at this for what it is, and provide the treatment for these people… The government is wrong to legalise this in the first place. This practice has led to these people now imagining that this inhuman, filthy practice is somehow normal.”

Mr Nolan then said it was “offensive” to listeners to suggest that being gay is a mental illness.

Mr Cohen then responded: “I feel like I’ve gone back in time by about 50 years. Firstly no credible medical institution or practitioner seriously believes that being gay is a mental illness. It is just a reality that some people are gay and some people are not or some people have same sex attractions, and some do not. I totally understand that there can be strong religious reasons why people are opposed to same sex marriage or same sex relationships. We have to get beyond that. This is about civil rights, and this is about equality.”

At 16 minutes into the recording that is embedded below, Reverend McIlvy, was asked whether he agreed with the caller’s assertion that being homosexuality should not have been legalised and said:”Yes I do. Homosexuality is an act that is a deviation from the teaching of the scripture. I have always taken the view very strongly that it would be totally wrong to give any excuse for violent acts against the homosexual community. I would condemn that unreservedly, but I do not think that should in any way silence those who sincerely hold to the teaching of the bible that homosexuality is an abomination.”

When asked by Mr Cohen whether he thought gay people should be sent to prison or chemically castrated as gay men once were, he responded that was a matter for the judiciary.

Another caller asked: “Why are the equality commission even putting their noses into this? Are the Equality Commission thinking that they are bigger than the word of God itself? What are they going to be saying next, that because people commit adultery in England Scotland and Wales that it would be okay to do it in Northern Ireland?”, when reminded that it is within the remit of the commission to consider such issues, he said: “I think if the [equality commission] is tasked with something like that, they should just refer people back to the bible itself.”

Reflecting on the experience, Mr Cohen said: “It does astonish me that this call took place in the UK, not in a country like Russia or Uganda. The views that I heard, directed at me, were more akin to countries like that than a liberal democracy like ours.”

The full audio of the programme is available below:

Benjamin Cohen on BBC Radio Ulster by Benjamin Cohen on Mixcloud

Yesterday, the NI Equality Commission criticised repeated attempts to block votes on equal marriage in the NI Assembly.

A joint same-sex marriage proposal by Sinn Fein and the Green Party was defeated in October 2012, along nationalist and unionist lines.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) again blocked progress on equal marriage through another petition of concern in April this year.