Northern Ireland

Ford compares gay marriage debate to civil rights campaign

David Ford urged politicians to take care with their comments
Image caption David Ford has stepped aside as a church elder while the church examines his position on gay marriage.

The Alliance Party leader David Ford has compared the current debate over equal marriage legislation to the civil rights campaign 50 years ago in Northern Ireland.

Earlier this month Mr Ford stepped aside as an elder at Second Donegore Presbyterian Church over his political support for gay marriage.

His position on the issue is to be examined by the church.

Mr Ford said the language of the debate was important.

"I think it's not for majorities to tell minorities that feel discriminated against that they're not being discriminated against," he told the BBC's Sunday Sequence.

"I think you only have to look back at the history of this region in the 1950s and 60s to see the dangers of majorities telling minorities that discrimination isn't real."

Last September, the Alliance Party voted in support of legislation to allow gay civil marriage in Northern Ireland.

Mr Ford voluntarily stepped aside as an elder in Second Donegore Presbyterian Church after some members of the congregation expressed concerns about his support for marriage equality laws.

"It appeared my political position was a focus for some limited dissent within the congregation," he said.

"I'm not sure how many members of the congregation did go to the minister.

"I know there were a small number who had a conversation with the minister and I've had conversations both, in the presbytery and in the session, before I voluntarily stepped aside, just to be very clear, currently from the active duties of the office, not from the office.

"I think that is very much an issue which is in the hands of the session of Second Donegore as to whether or when they might wish me to resume those duties."

Mr Ford told the programme it had been a "difficult time for me and my family given the way the controversy has raged and given to some extent the way it's been handled in the media".

The Alliance Party supports same sex marriage in Northern Ireland, while the Presbyterian church strongly opposes the move.

Mr Ford said his personal position on same sex marriage was the same as the party's position.

"I believe the state has a duty to provide services for citizens on an equal basis, and at the same time, the state has a duty to protect the rights of churches to define and practice their own beliefs," he said.

More on this story