Mike Nesbitt has spoken in support of same-sex marriage for the first time, just weeks after announcing his resignation as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.
The UUP MLA told BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show this morning that he had been “on a journey” that has now concluded with a position in favour of same sex marriage, so long as there are protections in place for churches.
Mr Nesbitt said: “I’ve finished the journey. I referenced it (same sex marriage) at a party conference speech, I think two conferences ago, but I was careful to put it into a context for the (party) membership.
“The context was ‘what if it was your son, your daughter, your niece, your nephew? Would you stop loving them because they were gay? Or would you continue to love them and want the best for them?’”
Asked directly by presenter Stephen Nolan whether he believed gay people in this country should be allowed to get married, Mr Nesbitt said: “Yes, they should, but the churches must also have protections.
“One of the reasons I took a position of not supporting a change in the law was sitting in my own church on a Sunday and thinking ‘how would this congregation feel if there had been a gay marriage here yesterday, on a Saturday afternoon?’ I reckoned a lot of people wouldn’t have been that comfortable, but the legislation as I understand it will put in protections.
“So no Minister will have to conduct a same-sex marriage if it’s against his conscience and no church, no congregation will have to allow it in their church if they’re against it. So, if those protections are in, you know what? If two people love each other and that’s what they want...”
Asked whether he had ever said that as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Mr Nesbitt said: “No, I did not, because I was on a journey. That journey is now complete.”