A controversy over the DUP’s views on gay people has increased in the north of Ireland despite the resignation of the party’s health Minister, Jim Wells on Tuesday.
A statement issued by the DUP referred to ill health of Mr Wells and his wife as the reason for the resignation. But Sinn Fein and other parties in the North have been calling for his resignation since last week, when his remarks linking homosexuality to child abuse at an election event in his south Down constituency created an internet scandal.
Wells (pictured, right) was further disgraced this week when the PSNI said it was investigating a complaint that the health minister called at the home of a lesbian couple and criticised their “lifestyle”. It is understood Wells was canvassing for votes in Rathfriland, County Down at the time.
Party leader Peter Robinson (pictured, left) said he will wait until after the British general election before naming a successor. But in a television interview, Robinson added to the controversy by appearing to allow the possibility of outlawing homosexuality.
Robinson was questioned on the opinions of DUP councillor Paul McLean who last week claimed that being gay should be criminalised. Instead of condemning the councillor, Peter Robinson said he was “entitled to that opinion” - before appearing to suggest that people should stop being gay where it is illegal.
Speaking about McLean’s comments, he said: “I don’t think he’s wanting to throw anyone into prison. I would hope that if it was illegal, people would obey the law.”
When asked if that means he’d like people to stop being homosexual, if it becomes illegal, he said: “I do, I do believe that people should obey the law.”
The DUP leader is no stranger to homophobia himself - with his wife Iris Robinson claiming previously that gay people are more “vile” than people who sexually abuse children.
DUP founder Ian Paisley launched the ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign to lobby against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1977. He died last year.
The party continues to oppose equality for same-sex couples, and earlier this month, the DUP blocked same-sex marriage in the Six County Assembly for a fourth time.
A referendum on the same issue goes before voters in the 26 Counties in three weeks time. In contrast to the North, it has the support of all of the state’s political parties and is expected to pass by a clear margin.