LORD Maginnis has sent an email to senior Ulster Unionists questioning whether party colleague Basil McCrea will be disciplined for “faceless” and “erratic” comments about the UUP veteran’s views on gay marriage.
The email, obtained by the News Letter, was sent by the former MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone to 12 of the UUP’s 15 MLAs as well as to party chairman Lord Empey, general secretary Colin McCusker and former UUP MLA David McNarry.
Among those MLAs sent the email was UUP leader Mike Nesbitt but neither Mr McCrea nor deputy leader John McCallister were copied into the correspondence.
The email has emerged as the first UUP MLA has come out publicly in support of gay marriage.
On Sunday Michael Copeland said that he backed the change which has proved highly controversial for political parties across the UK.
Relations between Lord Maginnis and Mr McCrea have been strained for some time. In the wake of Lord Maginnis’ comment in June that gay marriage could be a “rung on the ladder” to other “deviant practices” such as bestiality, Mr McCrea publicly criticised the peer.
The Lagan Valley MLA posted a comment on the social networking website Twitter describing Lord Maginnis’ comments as “increasingly erratic and ill-advised”.
In the email, which was sent on July 25 but is only now emerging, Lord Maginnis said: “Now let’s see what Ulster Unionism stands — interesting to see if Basil’s (virtually faceless — and I could suggest ‘erratic’) tweets are likely to be the subject of ‘whipping’.”
The email was sent three days after the News Letter revealed that Lord Maginnis had contacted conservative think-tank Policy Exchange to vent his anger at the group’s decision to support the “perverse proposal” for gay marriage.
Lord Maginnis’ email to senior UUP members contained a news report about that correspondence with Policy Exchange and which contained a reference to Mr McCrea’s comment on Twitter.
Lord Maginnis has had the UUP whip withdrawn from him by Mr Nesbitt over his comments about homosexuality but remains a party member.
On Saturday, Mr McCrea took part in Belfast’s 22nd annual Gay Pride march, walking amid whistles, flags and colourful revealing outfits
Mr McCrea, who has attended the event on several occasions, held a Queen’s University lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender banner.
Many posters carried at Saturday’s event attacked Health Minister Edwin Poots for his continued ban on men who have had sex with men donating blood, despite the rest of the UK relaxing the rules.
Other banners said ‘love is a human right’ and many posters called for gay marriage.
However, as in previous years, the event also attracted protesters.
One protest poster quoted the Book of Genesis: “The men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.”
Another Biblical poster said: “Marriage is honourable ... therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife.”
Among those at one of the protests was the TUV’s press officer and former candidate Samuel Morrison.
On Sunday Ulster Unionist MLA Mr Copeland became the first of the party’s MLAs to back gay marriage.
The East Belfast Assemblyman told the BBC that “minorities are best protected by equality; the current position on equal marriage does not afford that section of our community the benefits of equality and that situation needs addressed”.
“So it’s not surprising that the UUP, believing in equality, by extension addressing the issue that would flow from it,” he said. “However, I do have to qualify it by saying that in matters of conscience the UUP has always allowed members to exercise that conscience.”
However, when asked whether on an issue of “equality”, there could be a conscience clause for UUP members, he said: “Personally, I don’t think you can but that again is my view.”