Belfast Telegraph

McIlveen backs claim Paisley would turn in grave over DUP’s gay councillor

New DUP councillor Alison Bennington
New DUP councillor Alison Bennington
Councillor John Finlay

By Suzanne Breen, political editor

A retired Free Presbyterian minister has said he fully endorses a letter from a DUP councillor saying the Rev Ian Paisley would be "turning in his grave" at the party's decision to select an openly gay woman as a council candidate.

Rev David McIlveen said it reflected the "very strong biblical position many of us share on gay marriage".

Councillor John Finlay wrote to party officers expressing his "deep concern" at the decision to select Alison Bennington, who won a seat on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council last week.

The Ballymoney councillor said he was "very upset" at the way in which Ms Bennington was selected, as many within the party were "totally unaware" of the decision until it was announced at the launch of the DUP's local government manifesto.

Mr McIlveen told the Belfast Telegraph: "It's a very personal matter between councillor Finlay and the DUP, but I fully endorse everything he has written.

"His letter reflects the very strong biblical position many of us share on gay marriage."

Mr McIlveen previously said he would not vote DUP after the party selected Ms Bennington.

"I have nothing against the individual councillor. I'm sure she is a very capable person, but I couldn't endorse a party which advocates something so different to what I believe," he said.

Councillor Finlay's letter to DUP officers - published online by journalist Patricia Devlin - was written before the council election.

It said: "The candidate in question, Ms Alison Bennington, is openly gay.

"She has, apparently, previously indicated that she is in favour of same-sex marriage through a post on her Facebook page.

"This sends out, at best, confusing signals to our support base, which has consistently welcomed our strong stand on LGBT issues. Indeed, the DUP is different from all other political parties, apart from the much smaller TUV, in its adherence to family values.

"That has drawn support from across the community divide, but that support is clearly now being placed in jeopardy by the foolish decision in selecting Alison Bennington."

Mr Finlay asked party officers if Ms Bennington now agreed with DUP policy opposing same-sex marriage. He added: "It seems clear to me that we will lose votes on May 2 as a result of the Bennington decision. Our traditional support base cannot be taken for granted.

"I can feel the palpable sense of anger on the doorsteps.

"I am particularly disappointed that party officers who are committed Christians have either supported Ms Bennington's candidature or remained ominously silent. I think that some soul-searching is now required."

Mr McIlveen also voiced support for criticism of the DUP by Free Presbyterian minister the Rev John Greer.

In a sermon last month he said Christians were "being conditioned into thinking that things that were once reprobated are now acceptable... such as sodomy".

He added: "Now we have the DUP putting up a candidate who is an out-and-out lesbian - that's what I mean."

Mr McIlveen said: "I don't believe you'd find any Free Presbyterian Church member who would disagree with the sentiments he expressed."

A DUP spokesman yesterday said the party's position on same-sex marriage remained unchanged.

"We support the current definition of marriage," he added.

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