Paisley resigns as church leader

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Ian Paisley, the First Minister of Northern Ireland, is to step down from the leadership of a church he founded 56 years ago.

The veteran politician has come under pressure from members of the Free Presbyterian church over gay rights issues.

The fundamentalist Christian sect have been outraged that Mr Paisley and other members of his Democratic Unionist Party have ignored their objections to government financial support for Pride marches.

Mr Paisley, 81, became the head of Northern Ireland’s devolved administration in May, after decades of opposition to power-sharing with the province’s minority Catholic population.

Before the administration had taken office a Free Presbyterian preacher demanded that a new government minister block a grant to Pride, calling it a “celebration of sodomy.”

A coalition government included ministers from Sinn Fein, the DUP, the SDLP and the UUP.

Edwin Poots, the DUP minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, is renowned for his homophobic opinions.

As a councillor in Lisburn he tried to ban gay and lesbian couples from holding civil partnerships in the town hall.

Free Presbyterian minister Ivan Foster told the Belfast Telegraph:

“If it turns out that financial support for a celebration of sodomy is sanctioned by a member or office bearer of the Free Presbyterian Church, then it will underscore the utter futility of the power sharing agreement that has been put together by the DUP and Sinn Fein.

“Far from the DUP elevating the morals of society, it seems that the DUP is going to come down to the level of morality that society demands.”

The Free Presbyterian Church mounts a yearly counter-protest against Belfast Pride at the City Hall.

A former member of the DUP then challenged party leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland Ian Paisley over the Sexual Orientation Regulations.

The regulations outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation when accessing goods and services.

The UK government imposed them on Northern Ireland in January, before the new DUP/Sinn Fein-led local administration took office.

Independent Unionist MEP Jim Allister wrote to Mr Paisley to ask what he intends to do about the SOR now that he is in charge of equality issues in the province.

“There is not much point in being in executive office if you can’t deliver on principles important to you and your electorate,” he told the Belfast News Letter.

“These over-the-top regulations, subverting the conscience and convictions of service providers, so that, for example, the printer can’t refuse to print gay rights material, offend not just the human rights of service providers but exalt the rights of those they serve above their conscience and religious belief.”

He urged Mr Paisley to repeal the SOR.

Mr Allister left the DUP in protest at their taking office with Sinn Fein.

In the 1970s the First Minister spearheaded a campaign against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland, “Save Ulster From Sodomy,” and as recently as 2005 he led opposition to civil partnerships

Since taking office in a joint administration with nationalist party Sinn Fein in May the DUP has muted their stance on gay rights.

His son, Ian Paisley Jnr, a junior minister in the Northern Ireland executive, has been more vocal.

He has defied critics of his stance on homosexuality, telling a magazine earlier this year that he finds gay people repulsive and that they are harming to society. He refuses to apologise or resign.