Attempts to introduce same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland are set to be thwarted for at least another five years after the Democratic Unionists insisted they would continue to block a law change.
First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster said she would deploy the contentious vetoing mechanism - the petition of concern - in response to future legislative bids in the Stormont Assembly.
Mrs Foster insisted her party was not anti-gay, but said the torrent of online abuse she received from LGBT activists demanding a law change had made it even less likely for the DUP to support their calls.
“Some of the abuse that is directed at me and colleagues online is very, very vicious and I think if activists want to have a conversation about where they are coming from do they seriously think they are going to influence me by sending me abuse?” she asked.
“No, they are not going to influence me by sending me abuse - in fact they are going to send me in the opposite direction and people need to reflect on that.”
Mrs Foster said her willingness to use the petition of concern voting tool reflected her party’s strong determination to protect the traditional definition of marriage.
“Why would we, when we feel so strongly about the definition of marriage and the redefining of it, why would we give away that tool,” she said.
Although a slim majority of MLAs voted in favour of lifting the ban when it was debated for a fifth time last November, the proposal fell when the DUP deployed a petition.
A petition of concern was enshrined in Assembly structures as a way to protect minority interests. A valid petition requires the signatures of 30 MLAs. The DUP has 38 seats (including the speaker) for the current mandate, which ends in 2021.
A number of Assembly members are hoping to launch further Assembly bids to change the law through private members’ bills this mandate. But they too would flounder in the face of a valid petition.
Mrs Foster said her party was keen for a conversation about scrapping the petition mechanism but she claimed other parties were not up for it.
She highlighted that Sinn Fein used the petition the most times in the last mandate.
“It’s there to use and we will use as long as we have the ability to use it,” she said.
“If others want to have discussions about getting rid of it completely, then we are up for that discussion.”
Mrs Foster insisted those who claimed her party was anti-gay were mistaken.
“They are wrong and they need to understand why we take those positions from a faith point of view and why we want to protect the definition of marriage,” she said.
“I could not care less what people get up to in terms of their sexuality, that’s not a matter for me, when it becomes a matter for me is when people try to redefine marriage.”