UUP split on gay marriage vote

Jeff Dudgeon
Jeff Dudgeon

Ulster Unionist Party councillors were split down the middle during a vote at Belfast City Council on the topic of gay marriage.

The city council passed a motion this week endorsing the idea of same-sex unions by a vote of 38 to 13.

A breakdown of the figures reveals that whilst the DUP voted unanimously against the Alliance Party motion, the UUP saw three of its councillors oppose it, and another three support it.

The party is known to allow a free vote on the issue.

But during the most recent Assembly debate on the topic, for example, only one of the party’s 13 MLAs had voted in favour of the idea of gay marriage (namely Danny Kinahan).

During Belfast council’s vote on Monday – which was just on the principle of gay marriage, and has no effect on the law – Sinn Fein and the Alliance gave it full support.

Meanwhile five SDLP members voted in favour, and two abstained.

“It was a free vote, as the party policy allows on matters of conscience,” said UUP councillor Peter Johnson. “Our councillors were very relaxed about it.”

He voted against same-sex marriage because he “doesn’t see it as an equality issue” and believes that civil partnerships already offer equality.

“People don’t have to be the same, they just have to be treated the same. That is what civil partnerships were about,” he said.

He added there was “friendly banter” when UUP councillor Jeff Dudgeon, a gay rights campaigner, taunted Sinn Fein that they had covered up claims that iconic Irish nationalist Roger Casement was in fact gay.

The vote came not long after the issue of homosexuality had been debated in the new Mid Ulster supercouncil.

On that occasion, UUP councillors voted a variety of ways in response to a call for DUP councillor Paul McLean to retract comments he had made about homosexuality.

Last month councillor McLean had said: “It goes against the Bible’s stance – so I don’t believe it should be legal.”

During a debate on the subject last Thursday, two out of six UUP councillors opposed the call for him to retract his words. Meanwhile, four UUP members abstained (another UUP member was absent).

One of those opposing the motion calling for a retraction was Kenneth Reid.

He said that he had voted against the Sinn Fein motion “because it is preached against in the Bible that I was brought up with”.

“There is no rule in the UUP on how you vote on this,” he said.