Mike Nesbitt has revealed he is in favour of same-sex marriage, less than two weeks after his resignation as UUP leader.
Mr Nesbitt, in a lengthy interview with BBC presenter Stephen Nolan on Friday morning, admitted a turnaround on the controversial issue after having “completed a journey”.
At his party conference in 2015, he had warned that those opposed to same-sex marriage would find themselves on “the wrong side of history”, despite having himself expressed the view that marriage should be “between a man and a woman”. At that time he did, however, confess that the issue had given him “sleepless nights”.
In the interview with Mr Nolan, the Strangford MLA said he has now come to the view that same-sex marriage should be allowed, provided 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 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 party leader, Mr Nesbitt said: “No, I did not, because I was on a journey. That journey is now complete.”
He continued: “If two people love each other and they want to be able to call their relationship a marriage, and nobody is being forced to do something against their will, that’s reasonable.”