Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland, has labelled claims that her party is full of homophobes as "complete and utter nonsense"
The DUP have been considered 'kingmakers' for the Conservatives after Theresa May's party lost its majority in the aftermath of last week's election. The two parties are currently in talks to enter a formal agreement to govern, as the support of the DUP's 10 MPs would give Theresa May the majority she needs to pass legislation.
A deal between the two parties has been criticised from politicians and voters from all sides over the DUP's history of homophobia. Gay former soldier James Wharton resigned his membership of the Conservative Party and accused Prime Minister Theresa May of throwing LGBT Tories ‘under the bus’ over the proposed deal.
However, Foster has defended her party in an interview with ITV News. "There's been a lot of hyperbole talked about our position to the gay community," she said. "Much of it is complete and utter nonsense, I have to say.
"We take a particular view in relation to the definition of marriage; that does not mean in any one way that we are homophobic.
"But we've been branded in a particular way, which as I say is complete nonsense."
Foster may think the reaction to her party's position on LGBT+ people is "hyperbolic", but the words and actions of those within her party speak for themselves. In fact, homophobia is entrenched in the DUP's history.
The party was founded by Ian Paisley in the early 1970s. In 1977 Paisley launched the 'Save Ulster from Sodomy' campaign, which sought to prevent the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland.
Paisley died in 2014, but these views are still widely held in the party. Paisley's son and North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jr. said of homosexuality in 2007: "I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong.
"I think that those people harm themselves and - without caring about it - harm society. That doesn't mean to say that I hate them. I mean, I hate what they do."
The DUP has blocked equal marriage legislation multiple times in the Northern Ireland assembly - most recently in November 2015, when a majority of the Assembly actually voted to legalise same-sex marriage, only for the DUP to effectively veto the measure under the terms of Stormont's power-sharing agreement.
In 2013, the younger Paisley appeared on BBC's Question Time to air his opposition to equal marriage.
The DUP's Health Minister Jim Wells resigned from his post in 2015 after he suggested gay parents are more likely to abuse their children. "The facts show that you certainly don’t bring a child up in a homosexual relationship. That child is far more likely to be abused or neglected," Wells said.
Iris Robinson, former MP and wife of former First Minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson called homosexuality “disgusting, loathsome, nauseating, wicked and vile” in 2008. She also called said homosexuality is an “abomination” that can be “cured”.
Her husband supported her views. "It wasn’t Iris Robinson who determined that homosexuality was an abomination, it was The Almighty," he said. "This is the Scriptures. It is a strange world indeed where somebody on the one hand talks about equality, but won't allow Christians to have the equality, the right to speak, the right to express their views."
Iris Robinson later resigned from her position after BBC Spotlight uncovered her affair with a 19-year-old man and accusations of financial irregularities.
When these examples are viewed together, accusing the DUP of homophobia seems less like "complete nonsense" and more like an accurate assessment of the views of many of those within the party.
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