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Air your opinions but do not insult

Gay marriage is a subject which inevitably, if sadly, divides opinion in a conservative place like Northern Ireland. While such unions, ideally, should be treated as a matter of conscience for the individuals involved, the opportunity for controversy is never far away as evidenced by the row over remarks made by veteran Ulster Unionist Ken Maginnis on The Nolan Show yesterday.

This newspaper supports the concept of gay marriage and feels that the union of two people in love should not be denied to anyone simply because they are of the same gender.

This is a view we believe is shared by many people in Northern Ireland - particularly among the younger generation - even if it is mostly the strident opposition which is aired.

Ken Maginnis, in his political heyday, was a courageous politician who also fought terrorism as a member of the UDR. But his intemperate language on the issue of gay marriage does him no justice. While he is entitled to be opposed to gay marriages, this newspaper disagrees strongly with the views he expressed and the words he used, which were both distasteful and wrong.

But The Nolan Show should also look to its role in this row. The programme is a fine example of interactive radio, stirring up debate on very many important subjects, and more often than not reflecting public opinion in a forthright manner. However, there is a suspicion that Mr Maginnis' comments on yesterday's programme were exactly the sort of reaction the programme makers had hoped for when he was invited. The net result was a debate of the extremes which doesn't exist in the real world.

While, as already pointed out, many people have sincerely and strongly held views opposing gay marriage, they would never dream of expressing them in the insulting terms used yesterday. Mr Maginnis stands by his comments but his party has rightly - and quickly - distanced itself from them. This is not the language any debate should be conducted in.