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Forget about orange and green, this election is more concerned with pink...

By Henry McDonald

Published 01/05/2015

Elections in Northern Ireland are always refracted through two colours: orange and green. However, the 2015 general election has seen another hue edging into the picture in terms of controversy and news coverage - pink.

It is perhaps a sign of different times that the biggest election story during the campaign has been Jim Wells' resignation over his alleged remarks about higher incidence of child abuse among gay couples. And while the post-May 7 reporting from here to a UK national audience will be all about if Ed or Dave are prepared to a deal with Nigel (Dodds that is, not Farage!) currently gay rights issues are still colouring the reportage of Election '15.

Jim Wells might be gone as Health Minister but others both inside and outside the DUP are still attracting the attention of the national media in relation to LGBT issues. Martin McGuinness proposed this week that Northern Ireland should be allowed to hold its very own referendum on gay marriage equality. Meanwhile, the Rev Ivan Foster accused his former DUP colleagues of going, ahem, "soft" over opposition to homosexuality following Peter Robinson's statement distancing the party from Wells' remarks.

Most prominent of all has been a candidate in West Tyrone who in local elections last year received just 67 votes. Born-again Christian Susan-Anne White wants homosexuals jailed and now suggests that gay people are "40 times more likely" to abuse children, the latter assertion based of course on absolutely no credible research or data.

Even the liberal, centrist Alliance Party has got into something of a pickle over the gay issue in recent days.

On the one hand the party supports the rights of religious organisations, for instance, to deny gay couples the right to marry in their churches while on the other Alliance is resolutely opposed to the DUP's Conscience Clause Bill allowing businesses the 'right' not to do business with LGBT people.

The confusion over Alliance's position is further clouded by different stances taken by its sole MP in the last parliament Naomi Long and East Belfast MLA Judith Cochrane. Long voted in favour of same sex-marriage equality at Westminster while Cochrane abstained from voting during the Stormont Assembly debate on Monday night, when a pro-gay marriage Sinn Fein motion was defeated by 49-47 votes.

The gay question(s) has thrown up contradictions within many of our parties.

As for Susan Anne-White, one woman on Facebook even called for her to be jailed this week for her support for re-criminalising homosexuality. Which only brings to mind the great French free thinker Voltaire who said: "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Voltaire was an atheist but his defence of freedom of speech should apply as much to Susan Anne-White as it should for Naomi Long or Judith Cochrane.

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