Belfast Telegraph

Free Presbyterians hit out at proposal to light up town hall for Pride

LGBT support: Tom Smith of the DUP
LGBT support: Tom Smith of the DUP
Andrew Muir of Alliance
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Free Presbyterian ministers have voiced their dismay at what they call North Down and Ards Council's "offensive proposal" to light up a town hall for Pride Day.

Last week the Belfast Telegraph revealed how the single vote of a DUP councillor meant that the council's corporate affairs committee backed Ards town hall being lit up in rainbow colours for future Pride celebrations.

The motion passed at committee by six votes to five, with the backing of the DUP's Tom Smith proving crucial.

His five DUP colleagues on the committee voted against.

However, the committee's recommendation still needs to be ratified at a full meeting of the council tomorrow.

"I have said before there is nothing wrong with being gay. We are not all the same, we are all different, thank goodness," said Mr Smith.

"If we as a council can send a message to the LGBT community telling them we accept them and support them, and if we can do that by simply lighting up a building one day a year, then, my goodness. I think it's the right thing to do."

But now the Free Presbyterian Church has waded into the row, calling the proposal discriminatory and offensive.

In an open letter to Ards and North Down councillors, signed on behalf of several congregations, they expressed "deep shock and sadness".

"We note with dismay the committee's proposal. Pride is a political campaign group seeking to promote what they term 'marriage equality' - as was reported concerning their parade this year in Belfast," it states.

"We find it incomprehensible that, under the guise of noble sounding words such as 'diversity', any councillor would vote to promote the agenda of a small minority, an agenda that is viewed by many to be aggressively anti-Biblical.

"To support the lighting of Ards town hall in this manner would indicate that you are unaware of the grave offence this will give to many residents, and would reveal a lack of consideration for our sincerely held Biblical viewpoint.

"Had there been more notice given of this motion we have no doubt that many other evangelical Christians would have expressed their dismay at this offensive proposal.

"As ratepayers, we urge you to reject this discriminatory motion and instead endeavour to promote the long-held principles of civil and religious liberty, namely that all residents should be treated equally under the law with special privileges for none."

The letter is signed on behalf of the Free Presbyterian congregations in Ballygowan, Bangor, Comber, Donaghadee, Newtownards and Portavogie by Revs R Johnstone, T Murray, S Murray, D Priestly, C Salt, A Smylie, G Whyte and G Wilson.

Alliance councillor Gavin Walker denied the motion is intended to be divisive.

"As one of the movers of the proposal and the father of a gay man, I would like to assure Rev Johnstone, his colleagues and their congregations that this proposal is by no means intended to be divisive. Indeed, quite the opposite.

"Clearly we disagree fundamentally on the issue of homosexuality, but I hope all sides can at least agree to respect each other's point of view.

"This debate is not about same-sex civil marriage but rather a simple call for council to acknowledge that members of the LGBT community, the family and friends who love them unconditionally, are welcome, valued and safe in our borough by lighting Ards town hall in rainbow colours for a few hours each year."

The co-proposer of the motion, councillor Andrew Muir, said he found the opposition of the DUP "extremely disappointing".

"As far as I am aware, DUP have never objected to lighting up Belfast City Hall in rainbow colours on Pride Day each year," he said.

"The situation in Ards and North Down Borough Council should be no different."

Eighteen of the 40 councillors in Ards and North Down Council are DUP.

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