Lesbian DUP candidate Alison Bennington makes history with election win
Alison Bennington has become the Democratic Unionist Party’s first ever openly gay councillor.
Bennington made history on Friday (May 3) as she was elected to Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council in Northern Ireland, making her the anti-gay marriage party’s first openly LGBT+ elected representative.
She received 856 first preference votes, and was elected on the sixth count under the council’s preferential voting system.
The crowd erupted with cheers as it was announced that she had won a council seat.
A moment of political history as the DUP’s first openly gay candidate is elected.
Alison Bennington elected to Antrim & Newtownabbey Council.
A personal triumph and politically very significant. pic.twitter.com/pXfb7N2I81
— Mark Simpson (@BBCMarkSimpson) May 3, 2019
The count took place at the Valley Leisure Centre, which Bennington used to help run while working as a leisure services manager for the council.
Alison Bennington’s nomination divides DUP
Bennington said she was “delighted” to have been selected for the local election.
“I am putting myself before the electorate based on what I can deliver for them as a councillor working alongside a strong team of colleagues, not based on my sexual orientation,” she told The Irish News on April 18.
“I regard my private and family life as a matter for myself in the same way as everyone else.”
“I am putting myself forward based on what I can deliver, not on my sexual orientation.”
A DUP spokesperson called her an “excellent candidate” who would make for “an excellent representative.”
“The party selects candidates on the basis of merit and we believe in equality of opportunity,” he added.
Despite support from the upper echelons of the party, some DUP members have remained hostile.
Former health minister Jim Wells described the moment he learned of Bennington’s nomination as the lowest in his 44-year membership of the party.
He said that Ian Paisley, the party’s late leader who vociferously campaigned against the decriminalisation of gay sex, would be “aghast.”
Wells had the DUP whip withdrawn in May 2018 but remains a party member.
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DUP opposes same-sex marriage
The DUP is known for its archaic stance on same-sex marriage.
The right-wing party has repeatedly voted to block legislation that would introduce marriage equality. In November 2015, it used a petition of concern to overturn a majority vote that would have otherwise brought Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK.
After lesbian journalist Lyra McKee was murdered in Derry by rioters on April 18, friends and politicians have suggested that introducing equal marriage could be a potential part of her legacy.
Despite this, party leader Arlene Foster has said that she remains in opposition.
“We have a long standing policy, which hasn’t changed, of support for traditional marriage. That remains the position of the party,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland on April 25.