‘Jesus is a fag’ controversy raised in House of Commons

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The Northern Ireland Parades Commission is to meet with the organisers of Belfast Pride over a placard displayed at this year’s event that outraged Christians.

Democratic Unionist MP Nigel Dodds raised the issue in the Commons earlier this month.

The Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Goggins, told Mr Dodds that the Parades Commission has written to Pride organisers asking for a meeting “to discuss the matter further.”

The Northern Ireland Parades Commission decides whether individual protest marches or parades in the province can take place.

In August Belfast city councillor Christopher Staltford led calls for restrictions on future gay parades, claiming he was offended by the placard, which read: “Jesus is a fag.”

Belfast Pride is habitually picketed by groups of fundamentalist Christians, but usually passes off peacefully.

Free Presbyterian protesters infiltrated the march in 2006, handing out extracts from the Bible in protest.

Belfast Pride has been held every year since 1991 despite calls from the Free Presbyterians and others to ban it.

Since the restoration of the power-sharing executive government earlier this year it has become a contentious issue among Unionists.

The DUP was challenged in May over a grant from a government department to Belfast Pride.

A Free Presbyterian preacher demanded that a DUP government minister block a grant to Pride, calling it a “celebration of sodomy.”

Edwin Poots, the 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.

However, Mr Poots said he would not be intervening in the grants process.

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.”

A leading campaigner for gay equality in Northern Ireland added to the controversy earlier this year.

In a discussion on BBC Radio Ulster in August P A MacLochlainn said that in his view the details of Jesus’ life as presented in the Bible led him to conclude that he was a homosexual.

“I believe that a 33-year-old unmarried rabbi living in Israel, in the time that he was living and having a favourite friend among the apostles called John, was quite clearly a gay man,” he said.

“I am entitled to that belief as a gay Christian.

“Christ, if he were alive today, would be on the parade with us, on the side of the underprivileged, not standing superciliously at the side looking on.”

Yesterday Mr Maglochlainn again defended the placard, telling the Belfast Telegraph:

“Someone participating in the parade was holding the placard. I defend the right of that person to carry it.

“To not allow someone to carry such a placard would restrict freedom of speech and religious freedom. The DUP shouldn’t be so ready to shout blasphemy.”