Last edited: September 19, 2004

Blair Delays Gay Marriage Bill to Give Paisley Party Chance to Vote

The Observer, September 19, 2004

By Henry McDonald, Ireland editor

Tony Blair postponed a vote in the House of Commons to legalise gay marriages to placate the born-again Christian preacher and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Ian Paisley.

The second reading of the Civil Partnerships bill was scheduled to be voted on in Parliament last Thursday. However, Paisley asked the Prime Minister to put the vote off because all six DUP MPs would be at the talks in Leeds Castle, Kent, aimed at restoring devolution in Northern Ireland.

Blair’s decision showed the importance he attaches to the role of the DUP in the Northern Ireland peace process. The party now has the largest number of MPs and members of the Northern Ireland Assembly in the province.

Paisley called Blair last Friday and pointed out that he and his fellow MPs were determined to vote on the gay marriage legislation but would be unable to do so due to their commitments at Leeds Castle.

Paisley’s son, also called Ian, last night confirmed that his father had persuaded the Prime Minister to delay the second reading of the bill.

‘My dad rang Downing Street last weekend and told the Prime Minister that the six DUP MPs would be unable to vote on the bill,’ he said. ‘The Prime Minister agreed to postpone business until another date.’

Paisley Sr is the leader of the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church as well as chief of Northern Ireland’s largest political party. He is resolutely opposed to gay relationships and all his MPs were planning to vote against the Civil Partnership bill.

Paisley has led several public campaigns against gay rights in Northern Ireland, including his ‘Save Ulster From Sodomy’ crusade of 1981, when he opposed the British government’s move to lower the age of consent for gay sex from 21 to 18.

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