DUP leader Arlene Foster has branded the campaign for equal marriage “toxic” – for suggesting she has homophobic views.
Foster is the leader of Northern Ireland’s ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party, which has used peace process powers to override democratic votes in favour of equal marriage in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The party has also supported the introduction of a UK-wide ‘conscience clause’ to protect people who discriminate against LGBT people, and many senior DUP officials harbour actively anti-LGBT views.
But speaking to an audience at a church event last night, DUP leader Arlene Foster, who is a strong opponent of equal marriage, hit out at LGBT activists.
According to the Belfast News Letter, she insisted that “it remains my position very firmly [that] marriage is between a man and a woman”.
Ms Foster added: “[The] most frustrating thing about this whole debate is the fact that if you stand up for marriage and if you stand up for the definition of marriage as we believe in it, then in some way that makes you homophobic and a hater of gays.
“Nothing could be further from the truth as far as I personally am concerned and it really does hurt me when people call me a homophobe just because I stand up for the definition of marriage which I believe in and I think this debate has become very toxic.”
Speaking at the event, Ms Foster also appeared to praise strict regulations that led to a ban on anti-DUP placards at Belfast Pride.
PinkNews reported earlier this week that at least one placard bearing the slogan ‘F**k the DUP’ was confiscated by organisers. All parades are strictly regulated in Northern Ireland due to sectarian tensions in the region.
But Ms Foster said: “I was glad to see at the Pride parade on Saturday that there was not the same repeat of some of the scenes we had at the London Pride parade with profane language directed towards my party, which was really the lowest of the low.
“I do think if we want to have a mature debate about the place of LGBT and Q people in Northern Ireland, then it has to be a move away from the sort of binary position which we find ourselves in at the minute of all or nothing, which I find is wrong.”
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DUP official Jim Wells has reported the person carrying the ‘F**k the DUP’ placard to the police, alleging the comment constitutes a hate crime. Police told PinkNews they are investigating whether any crime was committed.
Speaking to PinkNews, Belfast Pride chair Seán Ó Néill said: “We would point out in response to the DUP leader’s comments that Pride in London and Belfast Pride are not subject to the same regulation, again, Belfast Pride is subject to regulation from the Parades Commission for Northern Ireland.
“There has not been a change in our position and we still want full Equality – the theme for Belfast Pride 2017 was ‘Demand Change’ and that is still our position.
“We have more legal restrictions on our parade than any other Pride in Western Europe and yet LGBT people here currently have fewer rights than in any other jurisdiction in Western Europe so we have to work within this legal context while trying to make our point.
“The same applies to the other upcoming Pride festivals here – Foyle Pride and Pride in Newry.”
Ms Foster recently reaffirmed plans to continue using peace process powers to override the Northern Irish Assembly and block equal marriage. She defended her actions by insisting gay people don’t really want to get married anyway.
She said: “This suggestion that every single person who’s a homosexual wants to change the definition of marriage is actually wrong.
“I know plenty of people in that community who don’t want to see marriage redefined and are quite content to live in partnership… it’s all become a bit of a storm in a teacup.”
A senior DUP minister previously branded LGBT Pride events “totally repugnant”.