NEWS
28/06/2018 20:30 BST | Updated 29/06/2018 08:49 BST

Arlene Foster Asked For Her Views On Same-Sex Marriage To Be Respected At LGBT+ Event

The DUP leader made history by attending the event in Belfast

PinkNews

Arlene Foster, known for her opposition to same sex marriage, has become the first leader of the Northern Irish DUP party to attend an event focused on LGBT+ rights.

Her appearance at the PinkNews summer reception at Stormont in Belfast is the latest in a series of recent outreach initiatives by Foster.

During her speech, she asked for respect for her views on same sex marriage, saying that her beliefs don’t mean she doesn’t value the LGBT+ community.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where gay marriage remains illegal, and Foster’s socially conservative DUP has been heavily criticised by LGBT activists for past derogatory comments about gay people and its ongoing resistance to same sex marriage in the region.

During her speech at the reception at Parliament Buildings, Foster hailed local LGBT people as some of the region’s “brightest and best” as she insisted she did not define anybody by their sexuality.

She said: “As a mature democracy, we must all enter into a new spirit of respectfulness and understand that we will not always agree but we will always try to treat each other with good manners and grace.

“For my part, I believe I can hold to my principled position, particularly in relation to the definition of marriage, whilst respecting the diversity across our society.”

She stressed that Northern Ireland had a “very strong faith community”.

“And people of faith contribute in many different ways to society here including to our business community, they should be free to do so without having to abandon their faith,” she added.

“We need to be in a space where we accept each other for who we are and we respect people’s conscientious position.”

She addressed the issue of same sex marriage head on: “Just because we disagree on marriage does not mean that I don’t value the LGBT community. It is not a zero sum game.

“All I ask in return is that my, and our views, are also respected if not agreed with. Whilst we disagree, this does not prevent us from finding common values to keep Northern Ireland moving forward.”

For many politicians and campaigners, Foster’s attendance a sign of hope that the DUP would engage with the LGBT+ community on issues such as same-sex marriage.

Speaking ahead of the reception, Northern Ireland minister Lord Springbank, who is gay and will be attending the event, said Foster’s presence was “quite extraordinary”.

But speaking in the House of Lords on Monday, he cautioned: “It is the beginning, not the end, of a journey.”

Foster also made history on Sunday by becoming the first DUP leader to attend Gaelic football’s showpiece Ulster Final – an event synonymous with the nationalist tradition in Ireland.

The moves come amid the powersharing impasse at Stormont and accusations from Sinn Fein that the DUP does not respect certain sections of society in Northern Ireland.