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Deep division on gay marriage

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 28/04/2015

Basil McCrea
Basil McCrea

Jim Wells may have had little option but to resign from his position as Health Minister after compounding his earlier blunder of linking child abuse with same sex relationships by becoming embroiled in a row with a lesbian couple during an election canvass in Rathfriland, but at least he did it quickly by Northern Ireland standards.

Had he stayed in post it would have caused further damage to the DUP which is hoping to become important power-brokers in the event of a hung Parliament at Westminster.

While he obviously holds strong views on the issue of same sex marriages - which he is entitled to have on a personal basis - it is equally clear that he is a man under tremendous strain given his wife's serious illness.

That may not excuse his comments, as this newspaper has clearly stated before, yet we cannot overlook the trauma that his personal circumstances have caused him and his family. Our wish now is that his wife, Grace, will make a good recovery, although it will be a protracted process.

It is a quirk of fate that the controversy should arise as the Assembly was preparing to debate gay marriages and that debate showed it is an issue which is not so clear-cut in the minds of MLAs as the outpouring of criticism against Mr Wells would have us believe.

While the DUP's stance on gay marriage is transparent, that is not the situation with all the other parties. The SDLP's official line is that it supports equality and therefore gay marriage. However, several of its members did not turn up to vote in the debate and not for the first time.

Alliance, which allows its members a free vote on the issue, is also pro-gay marriage, yet three members voted against the motion supporting it. One Ulster Unionist MLA voted in favour along with two other independent unionists and NI21 member Basil McCrea.

What this all underlines is that the issue is a hugely divisive one with voting among the 96 MLAs who expressed an opinion almost evenly split. That runs contrary to those most vocal on the issue who suggest the vast majority of people favour same sex marriages.

Are they any more in touch with public opinion than MLAs? As Jim Wells returns to the back benches he might ponder that he is unlikely to be the last to fall foul of our historic inability to have an informed - and rational - debate or to consider how the other side views any particular issue.

Belfast Telegraph

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