Northern Ireland’s anti-gay marriage DUP leader is stepping down

The leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party is stepping down… but his replacement isn’t likely to be any less anti-gay marriage.

Same-sex weddings are now permitted in England, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland – but continue to be blocked in Northern Ireland by the DUP.

Earlier this month a majority of the Northern Irish Assembly voted in favour of equal marriage by 53 to 51 – but the Democratic Unionist Party used a ‘petition of concern’  to strike proposals down for a fifth time.

The party has been criticised for “abusing” petitions of concern, which were introduced to encourage power-sharing and cross-community support between Unionists and Nationalists and allows MLAs to  ‘veto’ legislation they deem to harm one community.

DUP leader Peter Robinson, a strong opponent of equal marriage, announced this week that he would step down as both party leader and First Minister for health reasons.

Mr Robinson, who has previously resigned and un-resigned as First Minister, confirmed he would depart in the coming weeks ahead of the 2016 Northern Ireland Assembly elections.

He said: “I have told the party officers that I don’t intend to fight the next assembly election for a wide range of reasons and not simply because those objectives [resolution of the country’s political crisis] have been achieved.

“I very much take the two-term view of politics at the top.

The leader added: “There are a number of fairly immediate decisions that have to be taken and [the party] will then organise a transition.

“In the meantime I don’t want people to be focusing on issues of succession yet.

“When the party officers declare the process – which I guess would be at the beginning of next year – then people can start looking at who the successors should be for leader and first minister.”

The two favourites to lead the party are unlikely to shift on gay rights, however,

Current Deputy Arlene Forster has insisted that same-sex marriage isn’t needed because gay couples can have civil partnerships.

Meanwhile, Westminster DUP leader Nigel Dodds has called for a “conscience” law to be introduced to allow religious business owners to discriminate against gay couples.