DUP leader Arlene Foster says apologies over ‘harmful’ equal marriage stance won’t benefit anyone
Arlene Foster insisted that her expressing regret over the Democratic Unionist Party’s stance – and her previous comments – on LGBT rights wouldn’t benefit anyone, at PinkNews’ summer reception in Belfast on June 28.
When asked by The Irish News whether she should apologise for the harm caused to queer people by the ultra-conservative DUP, Foster replied: “Well, you know, we could get into a round of apologies and I don’t think that that’s fruitful for anybody frankly.
“I think what’s important is that I am here today to recognise the contribution LGBT+ people make to Northern Ireland. I hope that people take that as the reason why I am here.”
During the event, Foster urged attendees that she doesn’t “define anyone on the basis of their religion, race or sexuality”. She explained that she was keen to “use this platform to encourage meaningful engagement rather than megaphone diplomacy”.
Foster continued: “As a mature democracy, we must all enter into a new spirit of respectfulness and understand that we will not always agree but we will always try to treat each other with good manners and grace.”
“In Northern Ireland we have a very strong faith community,” she added. “And People of faith contribute in many different ways to society here including to our business community; they should be free to do so without having to abandon their faith. We need to be in a space where we accept each other for who we are and we respect people’s conscientious position.
She went on to argue that just because she, the DUP and other political parties disagree on the definition of marriage, it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t value the LGBT community.
“My party was founded in 1971 on the principle that everyone is equal under the law and equally subject to the law,” she said. “If we truly believe in equality of opportunity for all in Northern Ireland, then we must respectfully engage and listen to each other’s viewpoints.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that still implements a ban on same-sex marriage. Also speaking at the reception was Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill, who said that Northern Ireland need to follow the example of the south in championing equal rights.
“When you look back at the equal marriage referendum [in 2015], it was a euphoric. It came about in the south. What was once a conservative state is no longer. Leaders need to deliver the change,” she urged. “People here must enjoy same rights as everyone else.”