The DUP’s selection of its first openly gay candidate does not mean the party is on course to change its policy on same-sex marriage, two peers have said.
Alison Bennington, who is standing for election in Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, said she is standing “based on what I can deliver as a councillor... not based on my sexual orientation”.
She added that she regards her private and family life “as a matter for myself in the same way as everyone else”.
DUP veteran Jim Wells has said he is “deeply concerned” at the move, adding that many DUP members supported a traditional view of heterosexual marriage for raising children and that Ms Bennington’s selection could be used to “soften up” DUP supporters for same-sex marriage.
However, party chairman Lord Morrow appeared to disagree with the South Down MLA’s interpretation.
When asked by the News Letter if he believed the selection of Ms Bennington might signal a change in party policy on same-sex marriage coming down the line. Lord Morrow replied: “I am absolutely certain it won’t.”
The peer was also asked for his view on Ms Bennington’s selection and the apparent disquiet it is causing to some within the party ranks.
He said: “My views are as they always have been. I am for traditional marriage. I am opposed to the redefining of marriage.
“And that is my position, continues to be my position and will be my position. And I have nothing further to add to that.”
Meanwhile, DUP peer Lord McCrea also said there was no change of policy regarding same-sex marriage, adding: “That is a fact and certainly is not up for debate.”
The former MP added: “There is party policy and anyone who agrees to stand will stand under the party policy of the DUP.”
Asked if he had any personal views about Ms Bennington’s selection, Lord McCrea told the News Letter: “That is the position which I am making abundantly clear.
“I used to be an officer, I am not an officer of the party at the present moment. But the party policy is very clear on this issue and that is exactly where the party will be standing.”
DUP group leader on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council Phillip Brett – who has known Ms Bennington for a number of years – defended the decision to select her as a candidate.
He told the News Letter: “She has been a member of our party for a number of years and there is no reason why she shouldn’t be able to run as a candidate. Her selection came as no surprise to me.”
When asked if Ms Bennington supported the party policy on same-sex marriage, her running mate Mr Brett said: “As a DUP candidate she would supoprt all DUP policies on our manifesto.”