Projections show the UK could be heading towards another hung parliament in 2015 – and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party might end up with the balance of power.
With both the major UK parties reportedly courting the DUP leadership for support, there is a real possibility the party – which currently has 8 MPs in Westminster and 38 MLAs in the Northern Ireland Assembly – could end up with the power to dictate the next government.
We look at ten reasons why the party’s poor record on gay rights could be cause for alarm.
1. The party wants to exempt religious people from equality laws
DUP politician Paul Givan plans to introduce a private member’s bill in Stormont that would effectively void parts of equality laws, by allowing religious people freedom to discriminate against gays based on their ‘conscience’.
He claims: “We now are heading towards a community where it’s not just about live and let live – people are now saying, ‘you need to affirm my particular lifestyle and if that goes against your conscience, you have to do that’.
“That’s not equality; that’s intolerance.”
First Minister Peter Robinson appeared to back the move, saying: “I have become increasingly alarmed at the uneven pitch upon which rights and equality issues are played out. More and more the balance is tipped against people of faith.”
2. DUP minister Edwin Poots refused to lift the permanent ban on gay men giving blood
Despite Scotland, Wales and England all opting to relax the ban on men who have sex giving blood to 12 months, MLA and former Health Minister Edwin Poots led a crusade to keep the lifetime ban in place in Northern Ireland.
His successor has made no plans to lift the ban – making Northern Ireland the only part of the UK to keep the regressive policy.
3. Party leader Peter Robinson thinks homosexuality can be ‘cured’
The Northern Irish leader defended his wife Iris Robinson in 2008, after she told a man to seek therapy to “cure” his homosexuality.
Mr Robinson said: “It wasn’t Iris Robinson who determined that homosexuality was an abomination, it was the Almighty.
“This is the Scriptures and it is a strange world indeed where somebody on the one hand talks about equality, but won’t allow Christians to have the equality, the right to speak, the right to express their views.”
One of the party’s most influential figures, MLA and Health Minister Jim Wells, has made his anti-gay views incredibly clear.
When asked to attend a rights debate after a Pride parade in 2011, Mr Wells responded: “I understand that you contacted my Kilkeel office regarding what is termed a ‘Belfast Pride’ debate.
“As you are probably know I find the behaviour of those who take part in this march totally repugnant.
“I do not therefore wish to be association in any way with this event.
“My position on this matter will not change in the future and I would politely suggest that any further requests of this nature will be a total waste of your time.”
Shortly after PinkNews reported that Mr Wells had been appointed, the minister blocked the PinkNews Twitter account.
Incredibly, he claimed: “If someone swears at me, or uses foul language, or swears at another member of the party, I’ll delete them and block them.
“Those that have been blocked need to look at their language.”
PinkNews is not sure what part of questioning his gay rights record constitutes ‘foul language’ – but it remains blocked by Mr Wells to this day.
The party wasted time and money fighting to keep a ban on same-sex adoption – with Mr Poots claiming: “The natural order is for a man and a woman to have a child and therefore that has made my views on adoption very, very clear”.
The Supreme Court ultimately overturned Northern Ireland’s discriminatory ban on same-sex adoption just last October. At least £40,000 of public money was used in order to fund the appeal.
7. Even Jersey will have same-sex marriage before Northern Ireland
Despite same-sex marriage being law in England, Wales and Scotland, and despite a referendum in the Republic of Ireland next year, the DUP continues to veto all plans for equal marriage in Northern Ireland.
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The autonomous crown dependency of Jersey, meanwhile – which has a population of less than 100,000 – is currently consulting on its same-sex marriage law.
Jersey’s law is likely to come into force by 2016 at the latest – while it is unlikely the DUP will stop blocking same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland while in power.
8. Their former leader led the ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign
Ian Paisley, who spent 37 years as the party’s leader, campaigned against the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
Dr Paisley – who led the party until 2008, and died this year – led a campaign in the 1970s claiming that being gay should remain illegal because the Bible says that it is a sin.
9. DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr claimed that gay people are ‘repulsive’
The son of the party’s former leader – who is himself a DUP MP – said in 2007: “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.”
He claimed last year: “I am repulsed by many things. The actions, and not specificly the individuals. I am repulsed by people who are not homosexual as well sometimes.”
10. They vote against equality
The party’s MPs have consistently opposed gay equality in the House of Commons, almost without exception.
DUP MPs have voted against or abstained on same-sex adoption, the repeal of Section 28, the Equality Act, the Gender Recognition Act, civil partnerships, and same-sex marriage.