Political news

Ian Paisley silent on DUP's first openly gay election candidate

Ian Paisley declined to comment when asked about Alison Bennington being the DUP's first openly gay election candidate
Brendan Hughes

IAN Paisley has remained silent on the DUP running the party's first openly gay election candidate.

The DUP MP, who has previously said he is "repulsed by gay and lesbianism", declined to comment when asked about Alison Bennington contesting May's council elections.

"Away and get another story," the North Antrim MP responded in a phone call yesterday, before hanging up.

Ms Bennington's candidacy has sparked debate since The Irish News last week revealed she is the DUP's first openly gay politician.

The move is being seen as a "watershed" moment for the DUP, a party known for years of hostility towards LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people.

Read more: DUP woman is party's first openly gay politician

Former DUP leader Ian Paisley led the 'Save Ulster from Sodomy' campaign in the late 1970s. His son Ian Jnr in 2007 said he was "repulsed by gay and lesbianism", while former DUP MP Iris Robinson said homosexuality is "viler" than sexually abusing children.

While LGBT campaigners broadly welcomed Ms Bennington seeking election, others claimed that by standing for the DUP she is "endorsing their treatment of LGBT people".

The DUP described Ms Bennington as an "excellent candidate" for Antrim and Newtownabbey council.

Ms Bennington, who runs a consultancy firm and has a long-term partner, said she is seeking election based on what she can deliver for voters, "not based on my sexual orientation".

But DUP MLA Jim Wells said the late Ian Paisley would be "aghast".

"The party is making a very clear statement here by this selection and it fundamentally undermines the values and traditions of the party," Mr Wells told The Irish News last week.

Speaking further to BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show yesterday, Mr Wells said it was a "major watershed for the DUP".

"Many of our members who want us to hold the line on these fundamental issues are deeply worried because they don't want us to change our policy on this issue. And what's more, they are extremely worried as to what this is leading to," he said.

"Is this leading to us being softened up for a major change on same-sex marriage?"

The party opposes same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland - the only part of Ireland and Britain where it remains outlawed.

In 2015 a majority of MLAs voted for same-sex marriage, but it was blocked by the DUP using the petition of concern veto.

DUP Ballymoney councillor John Finlay, who has previously criticised the PSNI for taking part in Belfast Pride, yesterday declined to comment on Ms Bennington's candidacy.

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