Tory leadership hopeful Stephen Crabb has said he would push Northern Ireland to adopt marriage equality, as the race to become the next Prime Minster intensifies.
The Work and Pensions Secretary, who previously voted against same-sex marriage in England and Wales, has said he believes issues of equality should be uniform across the United Kingdom and would seek “constructive” discussions with the Northern Ireland Executive to have marriage equality introduced.
In an exclusive interview with PinkNews, he said: “If I was Prime Minster of the United Kingdom, I think it’s a hallmark of an integrated, cohesive state that you have equal rights. There shouldn’t be a patchwork of rights.”
“I know what the sensitivities are in Northern Ireland but given the overwhelming referendum in the South and given where the rest of the Britain is, I think that there is a really good case to sit down with Northern Ireland Ministers constructively and say, ‘look, come on, we’re a United Kingdom let’s at least have a united framework and coherent framework of rights’.”
David Cameron has previously said he wouldn’t discuss the issue with Stormont.
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Marriage law is devolved in Northern Ireland and the Democratic Unionist Party has continued to block any attempts to legalise marriage equality.
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The party has continually used Petitions of Concern, a mechanism that can stop legislation being brought into force, to block same-sex marriage – even when there has been a majority vote in the chamber.
A spokesman for the DUP said that it expected issues of devolution would be respected.
He said: “Marriage is a devolved matter and is for the Northern Irish Assembly to legislate.
“Presumably, anyone who becomes Prime Minister would respect the competency that the devolved institutions have.”
Having faced harsh criticism over his LGBT record since announcing his intentions to run for the leadership, Mr Crabb admitted to PinkNews that he had been wrong to oppose marriage equality and equal rights for LGBT people.
When asked if he would side with a homophobic B&B owner, who had turned a gay couple away on religious grounds, or for LGBT equality, he said: “I’m somebody who does take very seriously this issue of protection of religious freedoms. I think we do need to strike a balance of rights in society, but that is one issue where I was wrong.
“I think that anybody who is looking to offer a good or service in the marketplace there should be no grounds for discrimination whatsoever.”
He added that he believed a religious person who refuses to serve someone who identifies as LGBT should be prosecuted “if they persistently show that they have no respect for equality”.
The Work and Pensions Secretary also stated that he agreed with David Cameron and Equalities Minister, Nicky Morgan, when they called for ‘gay cure’ therapy to be “stamped out”.