Arlene Foster, the new First Minister of Northern Ireland, has insisted that same-sex marriage is “not at the top” of her in tray – as her own party continues to block progress on the issue.
Same-sex weddings are now permitted in England, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland – but continue to be blocked in Northern Ireland by the DUP.
Last year a majority of the Northern Irish Assembly voted in favour of equal marriage by 53 to 51 – but the Democratic Unionist Party used a ‘petition of concern’ to strike proposals down for a fifth time.
DUP First Minister Peter Robinson had been accused of “abusing” petitions of concern, which were introduced to encourage power-sharing and cross-community support between Unionists and Nationalists and allows MLAs to ‘veto’ legislation they deem to harm one community.
Robinson stepped down this week to make way for successor Arlene Foster – but the new leader told the News Letter that the issue is not a “priority”.
She continued: “It’s not something that’s at the top of my ‘in tray’ if you like.”
“Obviously it’s not on the agenda in terms of a vote coming up any time soon. We will of course look at that when it does come up. But our position in relation to those issues has not changed by my coming in.”
The First Minister added : “Just because we believe in the traditional view of marriage doesn’t mean that we denigrate anyone who doesn’t agree with that – not in any one way, nor will we under my leadership be discriminating against anyone in terms of their sexuality or their way of life or whatever you may want to say.”
However, she made clear: “It doesn’t mean that we’ll be moving away from the traditional view in relation to marriage.”
Ms Foster added that even if her MLAs were granted a free vote on the issue, she would not expect any to vote in favour.
She said: “I say that from having had conversations with MLAs over this issue now on about five occasions it has come before the house – whilst I can understand journalists would be interested in the semantics of free vote or whip I don’t think it’s going to make any difference [to how MLAs vote] to be honest.”
When asked if traditional views on issues such as marriage and abortion was a core part of the party’s identity, she said: “The DUP is – and we make no apology for this – founded on very strong Christian values as you know. We as a party will continue to have those very strong Christian values and part of that is in and around the traditional view in terms of marriage.”