Veteran UUP MLA will not toe party line on ‘conversion therapy’ motion

A veteran Ulster Unionist MLA has refused to openly give his backing to the party’s motion about “conversion therapy”.

Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 7:00 am
Roy Beggs is the UUP's longest-serving MLA

Roy Beggs, who has been an MLA in East Antrim ever since the Assembly came into being in 1998, would only say that “religious freedoms have to be protected” when pressed on the matter.

The vote on the issue split unionists on Tuesday.

The successful UUP motion sought to ban “conversion therapy... in all its forms” – but did not actually specify what those forms were.

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Meanwhile the DUP tried and failed to amend the motion to guarantee that religious observance would be protected under any such ban.

The phrase “conversion therapy” is a reference to a wide and undefined category of activities designed to alter a person’s sexual proclivities or “gender identity”.

In the past it has been associated with physical so-called treatments like electro-shock therapy, designed to turn people away from homosexual behaviour.

Old practices such as that were universally condemned in the Assembly during Tuesday’s debate, and members of all parties (including both the UUP and DUP) rejected the idea of using “conversion therapy” to change someone’s sexuality in general.

Instead much of the debate hinged on what exactly “conversion therapy” is.

Despite having previously allowed members to vote with their consciences on matters like gay marriage and abortion, the UUP did not allow its members a free vote on the issue; the motion was proposed by Doug Beattie and John Stewart and other UUP members were expected to fall in line behind it.

However, during the second half of the two-hour debate, East Antrim UUP MLA Roy Beggs took on the role of Assembly Speaker.

Speakers act as chairmen of the debate; they do not cast votes themselves – therefore Mr Beggs neither backed nor rejected the motion when the time came to tally up the votes.

Mr Beggs was asked by the News Letter whether or not he would have backed his party’s motion if he had been called upon to cast a vote.

He would not answer directly, and said: “I’ll tell you what I will say. I’ll say that freedom of religion has to be protected. Religious freedoms have to be protected – I will say that.

“Religious freedoms have to be respected. It’s a fundamental human right. There has to be balance in everything.”

Prior to the debate on Tuesday, ex-UUP leader Sir Reg Empey had told the News Letter: “I think people should be free to express their opinions according to their conscience on issues like that.

“That’s been a longstanding policy in our party...

“I think it’s the right thing. I don’t believe party politics should be intervening and forcing people to follow certain routes if they don’t wish to do so.”

The precise wording of the motion is contained in the link below:

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