Judge rules Edwin Poots’ gay blood ban ‘biased’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

A judge in Northern Ireland has ruled that the former Health Minister Edwin Poots’ decision to uphold a ban on gay men giving blood was the result of religious bias.

In 2011 England, Wales and Scotland changed the rules on blood donation to allow men to give blood if they have no had sex with another man for a year. However, DUP minister Mr Poots refused to lift the lifetime ban for men who have had sex with men in Northern Ireland.

Mr Poots, who has expressed anti-gay views, was previously found to have breached ministerial code in upholding the ban, and not taking the issue to the Executive Committee. In October 2011, Mr Justice Treacy declared the ban to be “irrational”.

A further case was brought to determine if Mr Poots showed religious bias in his decision. Mr Poots claimed his decision was only in the interests of public health. Lawyers for an anonymous gay man brought evidence including quotes made by Mr Poots in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr Poots was recorded saying: “There is a continual battering of Christian principles, and I have to say this – shame on the courts, for going down the route of constantly attacking Christian principles, Christian ethics and Christian morals, on which this society was based and which have given us a very good foundation.”

Mr Justice Treacy said in his ruling: “If health was, as the Minister claimed, the sole basis underpinning the impugned decision, no question of any assault on Christian principles or morals could conceivably arise.”

He also pointed out Mr Poots’ refusal to accept the advice of senior advisers and his previous anti-gay statements. Mr Poots has claimed it is against the “natural order” for gay couples to adopt children.

The Rainbow Project, Northern Ireland’s largest LGBT rights organisation commended the ruling. Director John O’Doherty said: “We welcome this ruling as laying out clearly that there is no sound reason why gay and bisexual men should be permanently banned from donating blood.

“We would now urge the Department of Health in Northern Ireland and the UK Department of Health to drop their appeals of previous judgements and make the necessary changes in blood donation to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK.”

He also spent £40,000 of public money on an appeal to ban same-sex couple from adopting.