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DUP MP meets campaigners on same-sex marriage... but party remains opposed to any change in law

By Rebecca Black and PA

DUP MP Gavin Robinson has received praise online for posing for a photograph with same-sex marriage campaigners - but the east Belfast man has insisted his party has not changed its policy on the issue.

The Love Equality NI group tweeted a photograph of Mr Robinson with two of its campaigners yesterday afternoon outside DUP offices in his constituency.

The campaigners had been travelling across Northern Ireland yesterday, delivering 2,000 Valentine's Day cards to the main offices of the NI Assembly election candidates asking them to come #Out4Love and support marriage equality ahead of the Assembly election next month.

Mr Robinson tweeted back "thanks for visiting guys @Love_EqualityNI - don't forget the chocolates next time lol".

He received praise from many on the social networking website for the move, with one user commenting "wow", and another "fair play".

However, Mr Robinson told the Belfast Telegraph that the photograph was not a signal that his party was minded to change its policy on same-sex marriage, but simply good manners.

He said he greets a diverse range of campaigners when they call to the office, including pro-life activist Bernie Smyth, in the same way.

A DUP spokesman confirmed the party had no plans to change its policy.

"The DUP receive many petitions and correspondence from a range of different groups, charities and organisations," he said.

"The organisation Love Equality arranged to hand their petition to the main parties, which was received by Gavin Robinson MP on behalf of the DUP. Our position on this issue remains the same and is well known."

In 2015 Northern Ireland's assembly voted narrowly in favour of gay marriage equality but the DUP vetoed any change in the law. The motion fell after the DUP used a petition of concern to argue that the law change that would allow same-sex couples to marry in Northern Ireland did not command sufficient cross-community support.

In October, then First Minister Arlene Foster said her party would keep using the contentious petition of concern to block same-sex marriage in the region.

The DUP leader insisted her party was not anti-gay, but said that using the petition of concern showed her party's determination to protect the traditional definition of marriage.

Earlier yesterday, the DUP's former partner in government, Sinn Fein, renewed its commitment to actively campaign for same-sex marriage. Signing a pledge to work to legislate for marriage equality, party members Gerry Kelly, Caral Ni Chuilin and Megan Fearon said there is a growing demand for a change in the law here.

Sinn Fein and other parties have tried to force through new laws to lift the ban on gay marriage in five separate votes in the Stormont Assembly.

However, moves to introduce gay marriage have been blocked by opposition, mainly from the DUP.

Ms Fearon, an Assembly candidate for Newry and Armagh, said she has friends in Dundalk "who can marry the person they love", but those who live just a few miles north of the Irish border cannot.

"We are publishing our pledge to actively work to legislate marriage equality," she said.

"We believe there's a growing demand for marriage equality.

"We made history in 2015 when the south (of Ireland) legislated for marriage equality.

"I live right on the border. A few miles over it I have friends in Dundalk who can marry the person they love but not in Newry, likewise in London but not in Belfast."

She added: "So we are pledging to actively work for equality as we have always done and we want to see all parties sign up to this pledge and all parties who say they are progressive to state clearly what they will do for the LGBT community."

Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK where gay couples cannot get married legally.

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