Quaker DUP man backs Fry in row

Raymond Mitchell.
Raymond Mitchell.

A Quaker member of the DUP has challenged his party over an approach to gay rights which has provoked the intervention of television personality Stephen Fry.

Raymond Mitchell from Lurgan last night welcomed the involvement of Mr Fry as a challenge to “the dangers of majority rule”.

DUP MLA Paul Givan has proposed a conscience clause to allow service providers to opt out of providing goods which they feel would compromise their faith. The move comes after the Equality Commission launched litigation against Belfast bakery Ashers for refusing to supply a cake with a gay marriage slogan.

On Wednesday Mr Fry, a high-profile member of the gay community, described the DUP conscience clause as being “sick”.

His comments sparked criticism from the DUP, to which Mr Fry added: “To be slammed by the bigots of the DUP is to be bathed in light and kissed by angels.”

Yesterday Lurgan DUP member and Quaker Mr Mitchell warmly welcomed Mr Fry’s intervention.

“I am glad that he has got involved,” he said.

“He lives in a tolerant and civilised society. The danger in this country is of majority rule persecuting niche interests, so I am glad that somebody like him got involved.”

He was “utterly ashamed” of how Mr Givan and his colleague Jim Wells quizzed sex worker Laura Lee and Queen’s University Belfast academic Dr Graham Ellison at Justice Committee hearings at the start of the year regarding DUP human trafficking and prostitution legislation.

“The DUP had complained of the amount of abuse it had taken via social media because of Mr Givan’s bill.

“But that is precisely what Mr Givan and Mr Wells were doing to Dr Ellison and Laura Lee at the justice committee,

“This is a hornet’s nest and it needs to be addressed with the utmost respect for people’s feelings,” he said of the conscience clause.

He cited a recent legal challenge in Scotland where two nurses unsuccessfully attempted to distance themselves from even indirect involvement with abortion provision.

“A conscience clause could paralyse a hospital, a provider of goods or services, or a wedding registry office,” he said.

“We need to take a step towards being a more liberal nuanced and tolerant society.”

Mr Givan replied: “This party member is fully entitled to his opinion.

“But Laura Lee lodged a formal complaint about me to the Assembly and the finding was that I did not even come close to disrespecting her.”

Free Presbyterian the Rev David McIlveen said the fact that legislators feel that a conscience clause should become law “proves that as a nation we have in effect destroyed the foundations that in the past have underpinned the honourable structures of our society regarding homosexuality and abortion”. He likened Mr Fry’s views to “an articulation of a conscience that is seared with a hot iron” and added: “He clearly has little or no understanding of the sincerely held convictions of the Bible believer and as a result expresses his ingrained hostility with arrogance, aggression and insensitivity.”