Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster has addressed members of the LGBT+ community at an event hosted by UK-based LGBT+ news site PinkNews.
Currently, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without equal marriage, in part thanks to the DUP repeatedly blocking the process over the past several years.
But Foster, who became DUP leader in 2015, began to try to improve the party’s relationship with Northern Ireland’s LGBT+ community at a parliamentary summer reception in Belfast.
Prior to the event, Foster set out her plans in a speech to the DUP executive. She said:
I want to genuinely reach out to our minority communities and show them the hand of friendship, recognising they have made Northern Ireland their home.
Although she added that the party would not be shifting from its position on same-sex marriage, meaning that LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland will continue to be denied access to the rights that same-sex partners enjoy in other parts of the country.
In her speech, which has divided the viewers, Foster acknowledged the contribution of LGBT+ people to Northern Irish society, adding that she looks forward to a time when her attendance at LGBT+ events will be “unremarkable”.
Though, as promised, she reiterated that she would not be changing her stance on same-sex marriage.
I wanted to use this platform to encourage meaningful engagement rather than megaphone diplomacy because as a mature democracy we must all enter into a new spirit of respectfulness and understand that we are not always going to agree – but we should always try to treat each other with good manners and grace.
For my part – and it will not be agreed with within this room tonight – I believe I can hold my principle position particularly in regards to the definition of marriage whilst respecting diversity across our society.
Foster did not acknowledge that the media attention surrounding her appearance is a result of years of abuse from the DUP towards LGBT+ people. DUP politicians have previously described homosexuality as “repulsive”, “disgusting” and an “abomination”, as well as comparing gay people to paedophiles and rapists. She did not deem it necessary to apologise on behalf of her party for these offensive remarks.
Throughout her speech, Foster repeatedly stated that everyone is born equal.
I was born, on the principle that everyone is equal under law and equally subject to the law.
But if that's the case, surely all people must have access to the same marriage rights.