The first ever openly gay candidate for Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party has been elected following Thursday's council elections.

Alison Bennington won the vote for Antrim and Newtonabbey Borough council, which is located in the north of Belfast, obtaining 1,053 votes.

Historically, the DUP has been opposed to homosexuality, with their founder, Rev Ian Paisley, once leading a campaign to 'Save Ulster from Sodomy' and also tried to prevent it from being legalised, with same-sex marriage still outlawed in Northern Ireland.

Although the party is still staunchly against homosexuality, this moment is likely to be seen as a significant moment for the DUP, which Bennington has been a member of for more than 30 years.

Speaking after her election victory, the party's deputy leader, Nigel Dodd congratulated Bennington and said that the DUP was open to anyone who holds the same aims.

Our party is open to everybody who subscribes to the aims and objectives of our party, wants to ensure the union is defended and we deliver all our policies.

Alison will be an excellent addition to our team, she is a very hard worker. She’s been a member of our party in the South Antrim association for many years and we are delighted now she is a councillor.

I started in the DUP 35 years ago, so yes, we have come a long way. Never did we imagine we would be the biggest party in Northern Ireland… in a party that size we must reach out to everybody and be representative of the unionist community, and I think that’s what we are.

However, Bennington's election hasn't been welcomed by all quarters of the DUP. Jim Wells, the former deputy speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly has been one of the DUP's most vocal opponents of the LGBT+ community, was highly critical of the moment, claiming that members were not consulted on Bennington's involvement in the party.

This marks a watershed change in DUP party policy and none of the members were consulted about it.

Many thousands of people in Northern Ireland are depending on the DUP to hold the line on these moral issues.

They feel very let down and very concerned about what has happened.

Wells comments drew derision from other members of the party, with some calling for action to be taken against him. DUP special advisor Timothy Cairns said:

Most right-thinking people are disgusted at Jim Well's comments. It is time for the leadership to take action. It is beyond time. What Jim has said this evening about a fellow colleague is wrong.

Gavin Robinson, the MP for East Belfast added:

If you believe in our party's principles, if you stand for our values, if you are prepared to go forward and seek selection and you are selected and elected by the people - then get on and do the job. We're not a theocracy, we're a political party.

Arlene Foster has also condemned the comments in an interview given to Brendan Hughes of Irish News.


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