DUP MLA who liked the post says he's 'not getting into a brickbat with media on this'
The DUP councillor who sparked outrage by suggesting the coronavirus outbreak was God's punishment for the introduction of same-sex marriage and abortion law reform in Northern Ireland has apologised.
Ballymena representative John Carson said his comments made on social media had been "misinterpreted" by some.
"Anyone who knows me will know that l would not intentionally set out to cause hurt or offence to anyone and if l did then for that l humbly apologise," he said.
"However l will never apologise for my Christian faith and will not be silenced by those that are opposed to the truth of GOD'S word."
Northern Ireland's First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster was urged to denounce the remarks and the party open disciplinary proceedings.
The DUP distanced itself from the comments, telling the BBC's Nolan Show that MrCarson was expressing a personal opinion and not that of the party.
"This is a global pandemic and our focus is on protecting lives in Northern Ireland," the party said.
Asked at the daily Executive press conference about the issue the party's Diane Dodds said the views were "certainly not the views of the DUP".
She said they were a "distraction" from the serious challenges faced in fighting Covid-19 and disciplinary matters were for the party officers.
LGBT advocacy group, the Rainbow Project, slammed the comments as "disgraceful but not surprising".
Earlier Mr Carson told the BBC he stood by his comments but refused to discuss the matter on the airwaves. He also did not return calls from the Belfast Telegraph.
Taking to Facebook to comment on abortion becoming available in Northern Ireland on Tuesday evening, he wrote: "I said when abortion was legalised that our nation would be judged by GOD because of its departure from his word and the legalisation of the murder of the unborn child as well as same sex marriage.
"I was laughed at and mocked by some but as l said at the time they laughed at NOAH until the rain started.
It is time to repent and turn again to the GOD of our FathersJohn Carson
"You reap what you sow and our nation is now reaping the judgement of GOD because of an immoral and corrupt government.
"It is time to repent and turn again to the GOD of our Fathers."
The post was 'liked' by scores of people, among them the DUP MLA Trevor Clarke.
He told the Belfast Telegraph he interacted with the public post from his private account, which he admitted he used for political comment.
He said he would not be commenting on what he said was a personal matter. Pressed on what his view was, he added: "I am not getting into a brickbat with the media on this."
Mr Carson is a member of the Royal British Legion and a strong supporter of veterans, according to Mid and East Antrim Borough Council's website. He is also part of the Orange Order.
The councillor works to help the elderly, build sustainable communities and sits on policing scrutiny and military reservist organisations.
Responding to criticism under his original post, Councillor Carson said he was entitled to an opinion.
He added: "They laughed and mocked my Saviour too, but some day soon their laughs will turn to screams."
There were many posts supportive of the politician's comments under the post.
Very patient of God to wait for Northern Ireland .... before sending judgmentMatthew O'Toole
Gavin Boyd of the Rainbow Project described the comments as "disgraceful but not at all surprising that a DUP elected member would try to blame LGBT people and our partners in the women’s movement for the coronavirus outbreak just as they have blamed us for Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters in the past.
"The Rainbow Project and our partners in the LGBT sector and women’s sector are still supporting our communities at this difficult time.
"We are still providing counselling services and social support to very isolated people. It is very telling where the priorities of some DUP elected members lie when they seek to blame marginalised people for a global pandemic.
"We look forward to hearing, from Arlene Foster, a strong denunciation of this disgusting slur from her councillor John Carson and we expect disciplinary proceedings to be commenced against him immediately."
SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole added: "Very patient of God to wait for Northern Ireland - virtually the last part of the western world to get either equal marriage and abortion rights - before sending judgment."
Same-sex marriage was legalised in Northern Ireland at the beginning of the year. It was introduced when MPs voted through an amendment to a Northern Ireland bill in parliament forcing the government to legislate in the absence of powersharing.
Abortion was decriminalised in Northern Ireland last October in a similar manner. New laws allowing terminations in all circumstances in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy came into force this week.
Before the change abortion was only allowed if a woman's life was at risk or there was a danger of permanent and serious damage to her physical or mental health.
Nearly a million people around the world have contracted coronavirus, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University, and more than 47,000 people have died as a result of the pandemic.
The real figures are believed to be much higher because of testing shortages, differences in counting the dead and large numbers of mild cases that have gone unreported.
Previously the DUP Ballymena councillor Maurice Mills said the devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 was God's punishment of the city's gay community. Katrina killed over 1,300 people.
He refused to apologise for the offence caused.
In 2015 he was made a Member of the British Empire in the Queen's New Year Honours list for services to local government. At that time he told the Belfast Telegraph he stood by the comments.
The DUP was approached for further comment.