The Democratic Unionist Party lobbied to stop Northern Irish gay couples from upgrading their civil partnerships to marriages in Scotland, newly-published letters reveal.
Concern over the party’s social conservatism is growing as it negotiates to prop up the Tories in the hung Westminster parliament.
An argument erupted over whether the DUP asked the Scottish Government to exclude gay couples from Northern Ireland from plans to allow those from outside Scotland to upgrade their civil partnerships to marriages there.
The DUP has repeatedly resisted introducing gay marriage to Northern Ireland.
As focus on the DUP intensified, party leader Arlene Foster denied last week she had written any letter, saying: “It certainly wasn’t a letter from me and I’ve no recollection of a letter from me.”
But the Scottish Government has now published the September 2015 letter, in which Foster, then finance minister, urged then Scottish Local Government Minister Mario Biagi to reconsider including couples who entered civil partnerships in Northern Ireland.
Foster wrote setting out potential legal issues and said excluding them would mean ‘legal certainty’.
Biagi wrote back, clarifying that the order specifically addressed the issue she raised.
The letters’ publication triggered anger in the province, the only UK jurisdiction where gay marriage is not legal.
Belfast lawyer Ciaran Moynagh, who is fighting in the courts to bring same sex marriage to Northern Ireland, said he was “stunned to see in black and white the attempts by DUP ministers to further limit the rights of same-sex couples”.
He said: “The letters clearly demonstrate how the DUP try to use whatever political influence they have to restrict LGBT+ rights.
“This is of obvious and pressing concern given the current ‘confidence and supply’ negotiations with Downing Street.″
He said the DUP had lobbied for the law introducing same sex marriage to England and Wales to ensure any gay marriages were only recognised as civil partnerships in Northern Ireland.
He added: “The publication of these letters comes at a time when the DUP are in negotiations with Theresa May and her government and LGBT issues may be on the table. It is a matter of deep concern.”
John O’Docherty, director of The Rainbow Project, a LGBT rights group in Northern Ireland, said Foster owed people an apology and explanation.
He said: “Elected governments in most jurisdictions are expected to go above and beyond in representing the interests of their citizens.
“But it appears that members of the Northern Ireland Executive sought to do the opposite and ensure that NI citizens were significantly disadvantaged.
He added that Foster’s argument that the Scottish Government’s position could create confusion was “difficult to accept considering the confusion caused to lawfully married couples who are not recognised as married in Northern Ireland”.