The DUP founder’s son has called homosexuality ‘immoral, offensive and obnoxious’.
They say politics makes strange bedfellows and the DUP is fine with that – as long as it’s not two men, anyway. The right-wing Northern Irish party is set to prop up Theresa May as she seeks to form a minority government. For most people, the DUP is a relative unknown. Yet it looks set to become the most important power brokers in Westminster.
The party formed in 1971 and is the only sectarian party in Westminster. It is the unionist party (juxtaposed primarily against the republican and abstentionist Sinn Fein) in Northern Ireland, but it is also deeply socially conservative, opposing advances in women’s rights and LGBT+ rights for decades.
I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill Tory backbencher, either. As the Independentearlier reported, the founder’s son, Ian Paisley Jr, has referred to homosexuality as “immoral, offensive and obnoxious”. The party is so deeply opposed to equal marriage in Northern Ireland that it has threatened the power-sharing agreement that has brought peace to the province in order to prevent Sinn Fein bringing it forward. As former DUP health minister Jim Wells famously said, “Peter will not marry Paul in Northern Ireland.”
The DUP is also deeply opposed to reproductive justice. The party has opposed liberalising abortion laws in Northern Ireland – the strictest in the United Kingdom. According to the charity Marie Stopes, many Northern Irish women have to travel to England (and pay) for their abortions because of the strict laws supported by the DUP. And the DUP leader Arlene Foster was only last month accused of making sexist remarks about a Sinn Fein politician.
The DUP has been disastrous for LGBT and women’s rights in Northern Ireland, and now, thanks to Theresa May, it can inflict its reactionary agenda on the rest of the country. If you think this unlikely, don’t kid yourself – with the 10 DUP MPs, May’s majority is two. She’s not going to want to rock the boat in any way, meaning that she’s unlikely to bring forward any legislation that would see progress on these issues. Equal pay? Doubtful. LGBT-inclusive PSHE? Don’t count on it. Pushing Stormont to grant equal rights to women and LGBT people in Northern Ireland? Hard no.
What we should really worry about, though, is all those EU rights that have to be enshrined in British law. So much equalities legislation is underpinned by European law, whether through the EU or the European Convention on Human Rights, whose court’s rulings are embedded in UK law through the Human Rights Act – which Theresa May has long dreamt of repealing and which the DUP would likely love to see go.
If the DUP was willing to throw Northern Ireland back into turmoil over marriage equality, trust and believe that it’s willing to destroy Theresa May’s government if it doesn’t get its way – which means it will get its way. This is horrible news for women, for LGBT people, and for equality in general.
By being so reliant on the DUP, Theresa May has basically given it control of the ship of state, and it has pointed the sails towards the past. Never mind leaving the European Union. With the DUP, we’re leaving the 21st century.