A DUP councillor awarded the MBE last month has reacted angrily to pro-gay rights celebrities campaigning to have his honour rescinded.
Maurice Mills, who served three terms as mayor of Ballymena, said he should be judged on his record of public service over 43 years – and repeated his claim that a devastating hurricane could have been God’s punishment for the promotion of homosexuality.
Mr Mills made his original remarks in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that claimed the lives of more than 1,800 people across five southern US states. The storm struck New Orleans in 2005 just days before the Louisiana city was due to host the LGBT Southern Decadence festival.
A leading gay Hollywood actress and outspoken gay rights activist has slammed the MBE award.
In a foul-mouthed rant on Twitter, Canadian star of the X-Men movies Ellen Page said: “The Queen honored a politician who blamed Hurricane Katrina & AIDS on LGBT people – f**k that”.
As rescue agencies were dealing with the emergency that cost the US economy an estimated $108billion, Mr Mills was reported to have said: “This is a warning to nations where such wickedness is increasingly promoted and practised.”
A number of years ago he also caused controversy when he blamed the spread of Aids in Africa on gay people engaging in the “filthy practice of sodomy”.
Speaking to the News Letter, he said he stood by his previous comments – and challenged those speaking out against him to examine his “contribution to local government and to the community at large”.
He said: “I welcome the scrutiny of anybody. These people are making judgment on a person when they haven’t a clue about his background or what the position is.
“I’m not getting into a mix about that. My position is taken from the word of God and I’ll obviously not be moving from that, it’s as simple as that.”
When asked if he would consider returning his MBE over the controversy, he said: “Why should I. That’s a silly question. It’s been conferred upon me by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.”
Claiming his original remarks were often misquoted as a statement of fact, he added: “I said this ‘could’ be a warning, just as God has done countless times through the ages.”
Another household name to condemn the New Year honour for Mr Mills is Dr Christian Jessen.
The Embarrassing Bodies TV presenter tweeted: “Politician who blamed gays for bad weather given MBE. COMPLAINT LETTERS PLEASE!”
News of the row has also been reported on many major television and other media networks around the world.
By Tuesday night almost 600 people had signed an online petition calling for Mr Mills’ MBE to be rescinded.
The petition’s proposer, Thomas Erridge from London, said: “Awarding such an honour to a person who has repeatedly and publicly stated very homophobic sentiments, such as linking natural disasters with pride events and Aids with what he termed ‘sodomy’ that some might easily argue constitute hate speech, suggests that such sentiments are acceptable to hold and voice publicly in a developed society like our own.
“The awarding of this respected honour to a person with such a reputation not only gives the impression that their opinions are valid, but devalues the entire system of honours by association to these toxic sentiments. If Mr Mills were to retain this honour, the respect that accompanies it might become a thing of the past.”