Leo Varadkar taking photos with the crowds at Dublin Pride. RollingNews

Leo Varadkar stands up to DUP anti-gay stance vowing to support “equality before the law”

Northern Ireland’s largest party, the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has slammed Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar for attending a “Pride Breakfast” on Saturday, part of the Belfast Pride Festival celebrating the LGBTQ community.

The DUP, which holds ten of Northern Ireland's 18 seats in the British Parliament and is now propping up the government led by Prime Minister Theresa May, has repeatedly blocked attempts in Northern Ireland to allow same-sex marriage despite the results of public polls showing a majority support for new legislation. The party rejects any suggestion it is homophobic, insisting it is, instead, protecting the "traditional" definition of marriage.

Varadkar told the press that he had not discussed the matter of same-sex marriage with the DUP leader Arlene Foster when he met with her on Friday. The Irish leader, who is gay, said he had previously advised her on his views.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and DUP leader Arlene Foster.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and DUP leader Arlene Foster.

Foster has made plain her opposition to gay marriage, “This suggestion that every single person who’s a homosexual wants to change the definition of marriage is actually wrong," she has stated. 

“I know plenty of people in that community who don’t want to see marriage redefined and are quite content to live in partnership.

“It’s all become a bit of a storm in a teacup.”

When asked if his attendance might upset the DUP Varadkar said he vowed to “express my support for equality before the law for Catholics, Protestants, non-religious people, men, women, gay people and straight people – and I won’t be making any compromises about that for anyone.”

He said he knew Northern Ireland “well enough” and said he believes public opinion on the matter had “moved on a long time ago.”

Speaking in Belfast on Saturday, Varadkar said, “I am not here to unsettle anyone, but I am here to show my support and the support of my government for equality before the law for all citizens no matter where they reside.”

He added, "Difference makes us stronger and that's something believe in and something that I can mark Northern Ireland out in the future.

"I totally appreciate that this is an issue for the Northern Ireland Assembly, but we need an assembly up and running."

When questioned about the prospect of legalizing same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland Varadkar said, “It is only a matter of time.”

The DUP's reaction

Last week several DUP members voiced their concerns about Varadkar’s plan to attend. They suggested it was inappropriate for the leader of the Irish Republic’s government to interfere with the politics of a neighboring country.

Nelson McCausland, a senior DUP party member and former minister in the Northern Ireland executive, told the Irish News, “Many unionists... will find it odd if he starts to interfere, as in some ways he already has done, in what is a social issue in Northern Ireland around the redefinition of marriage.”

The Irish leader announced publicly that he was gay during Ireland’s same-sex marriage referendum campaign in 2015. On May 23, 2015 two-thirds of the Irish public voted in favor of same-sex marriage.

The Belfast Pride Festival

Saturday's Pride Breakfast in The Northern Whig pub in Belfast city center was also attended by the Northern Ireland leader of Sinn Fein, Michelle O’Neill, along with a number of gay rights activists from the Irish and Northern Irish police forces.

For the first time this year the rainbow flag, symbolizing gay rights, was flown above the main office of Stormont House to coincide with the Belfast Pride Festival. An estimated 8,000 people took part in the Pride parade, which was watched by an estimated 15,000 supporters. This is officially the biggest Pride parade in the province this year.

Alliance South Belfast MLA Paula Bradshaw said, "Belfast Pride has become one of the annual highlights of the local calendar, with thousands of people taking part in the parade itself, and thousands more lining the route," she said.

"The sheer size of the parade today was breathtaking. The week leading up to the parade is also filled with fantastic events, showcasing the work and education which has gone on in relation to the LGBT community.

"It was also particularly welcome to see the PSNI taking part in the parade in their uniform for the first time. This move shows just how diverse and positive Belfast has become in so many ways, and how much of a stand we will take against prejudice.

"But many challenges experienced by LGBT people here remain, and therefore Alliance will continue to fight against all forms of discrimination and lead the way in promoting equality for everyone."

Is it time for a same-sex marriage referendum in Northern Ireland? Let us know in the comments section below.