The ‘eyes of the world’ were watching at the monthly meeting of Mid Ulster Council as a DUP councillor attempted to deflect criticism over a homophobic remark.
The local council successfully passed a motion calling on Councillor Paul McLean to retract comments he made last month over homosexuality.
However, the DUP council leader’s apparent retraction of the offensive remarks might have baffled those listeners not familiar with the theological intricacies of the Bible, as well as failing to appease his fiercest critics.
Councillor McLean’s stated belief that homosexuality ‘should not be legal’ was printed in the Irish News, and caused a media furore in the aftermath of the resignation of former Health Minister Jim Wells.
In the interview, Councillor McLean said: “The biblical perspective is against it and I take that view. It goes against the bible’s stance- so I don’t believe it should be legal.”
Proposing the motion at the Thursday night meeting, Sinn Fein’s Caoimhe O’Neill branded the comment ‘reckless’ and ‘insensitive’.
Quoting the Mid Ulster Mail, she said the eyes of the world were watching what transpired at the meeting, such was the shocking nature of Councillor McLean’s comments.
“I’ve seen at first hand the sense of isolation, self-harm and suicide risk that this community faces because of prejudice. There should be no place in our society for homophobia”, she said.
She also accused the Unionist parties of blocking Sinn Fein moves to have marriage equality for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community, quoting Amnesty International by saying, “the North is the last bastion of discrimination against gay people on these islands.”
She added: “I would ask that this council takes this opportunity to show much needed solidarity with this community and ask Mr McLean to withdraw his comments.”
Defending his comments, Paul McLean hit back at Sinn Fein for proposing the motion, accusing them of moral hypocrisy in condemning his comments, and refusing to condemn the ‘murder, capture and torture of British citizens’ during the Troubles.
“What right does Sinn Fein have to lecture me on my ethics given their history?” he asked the chamber.
However, in what appeared to be a retraction, the Magherafelt councillor said that not every sin mentioned in the bible should be regarded as a criminal offence.
“I’m not a biblical scholar but I will defend Christians’ rights to uphold their beliefs. At the time I made the comments I didn’t believe homosexuality should be legal because it is against biblical teaching.
“However, when I consider this more carefully, I concede that although the bible clearly lists homosexuality as a sin, I don’t believe that all sins are criminal offenses and punishable by law.
“It was not my intention to cause offence to anyone, and I want the Mid Ulster area to be a place where everyone is welcome.
“I want to see this area prosper and I want to lay a foundation for my children and grandchildren.
“But just because I believe in marriage between one man and one woman, it doesn’t make me a homophobic, and it doesn’t mean I hate anyone.”
He also criticised Sinn Fein for choosing a young female representative to propose the motion, rather than a representative who had been involved in the Troubles.
“I will always defend the rights of Christian people to quote the scriptures and live their lives according to God’s word.
“They should not be forced by any law of this land to dilute the bible or their sincerely held beliefs,” he said.
“I challenge councillor O’Neill to bring a motion next month asking this council to condemn- not just the words but also the actions and involvement of her party colleagues in the Provisional IRA.
Councillor O’Neill’s motion was carried by 23 votes to nine. A total of four UUP council members abstained from voting.