Equality row intensifies as DUP responds to Fry’s ‘bigots’ jibe

Stephen Fry.
Stephen Fry.

Edwin Poots has responded to Stephen Fry’s attack on the DUP’s equality legislation stance, saying critics continue to “miss the point” of the proposed law change.

On Wednesday, the TV personality and high-profile member of the gay community described the DUP’s commitment to a ‘conscience clause’ opt out as being “sick”.

His comments sparked a backlash from some DUP MLAs. However, in a message to his 8.2 million Twitter followers yesterday, Mr Fry said: “To be slammed by the bigots of the DUP is to be bathed in light and kissed by angels.”

On Tuesday, the comedian and presenter urged everyone to sign an online petition opposing the DUP’s bill through the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The new bill’s proposer Paul Givan, and his DUP colleague Edwin Poots, both said Mr Fry’s intervention amounted to endorsing “discrimination against people of faith”.

The original row erupted when a Newtownabbey bakery, owned by devout Christians, refused to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage message written on it and are being taken to court by the Equality Commission.

Mr Poots said that, although he rejected Mr Fry’s allegations that the DUP was a party of bigots, a household name sharing his views online had “broadened the debate”.

In a message on Twitter yesterday, Mr Fry said: “To be slammed by the bigots of the DUP is to be bathed in light and kissed by angels.”

Earlier he said: “Once again the religious right twisting truth to present themselves as victims.”

Speaking to the News Letter on Thursday night, Mr Poots said that, although he rejected Mr Fry’s allegations that the DUP was a party of bigots, a household name sharing his views online had “broadened the debate”.

Mr Poots said: “While the debate takes place we can keep putting out a message that this isn’t about an attack on people’s rights, it’s actually a defence of people’s rights.

“I think that is part of the problem – every time someone says something it is put out there we are taking rights away from people but that’s not what it’s about.”

Commenting on the progress of Mr Givan’s ‘conscience clause’ private member’s bill, Mr Poots said: “The consultation is happening now so that process will be completed and hopefully by the Easter recess we can get the first reading in.”

Mr Poots has been subjected to tirades of online abuse over his stance but said it will not deter him from stating his views publicly.

“It’s not unusual for somebody to be wishing you dead,” he added.

The Christian Institute is supporting the bakery’s owners, the McArthur family, in the action being taken by the Equality Commission.

The institute strongly believes the commission should not be “wasting taxpayers’ money on its campaign” against the McArthurs.

Ashers manager Daniel McArthur has said they will not be forced to promote a cause which goes against their “conscientious view” of marriage.

“We feel that the Equality Commission are pursuing us because of our beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Mr McArthur said.

In a letter to Ashers dated October 27, the Equality Commission demanded that compensation be offered within seven days or court proceedings would be instigated, the Christian Institute has said.

A YouGov poll of more than 2,000 adults across England, Scotland and Wales found that almost two thirds (65 per cent) of those surveyed objected to the bakery being taken to court over its stance, with 56 per cent saying they believed it was acceptable for Ashers to refuse to make the cake due to Christian beliefs.