Ireland North: Health Minister forced to resign after making homophobic remarks

LGBT and women’s rights campaigners boosted

The Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) Jim Wells has today resigned from his position as Northern Ireland’s Health Minister in the face of public outrage over homophobic comments he made at a hustings event in the run up to the Westminster elections. Wells said, “You don’t bring a child up in a homosexual relationship. That child is far more likely to be abused or neglected.” He later apologised, claiming he was under stress due to his wife being ill. However, this is not the first time Wells has made such bigoted comments. In 2011, he told Belfast Pride organisers, “I find the behaviour of those who take part in this march repugnant.”

Socialist Youth campaigning for Wells’ resignation

As Health Minister, Wells continued his DUP predecessor’s legal campaign to maintain a religiously-motivated ban on gay men giving blood in opposition to all the medical evidence, spending tens of thousands of pounds of public money in the process. He has also maintained a ban on same-sex couples adopting children.

Last Saturday, while canvassing door-to-door for the election, Wells insulted a same-sex couple, telling them that he did not agree with their “lifestyle choice”, which prompted a police investigation. One of the women had been a lifelong DUP voter up to that point! While DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson publicly backed Wells, it seems certain that Wells was pressured to go, with the DUP leadership fearing potential damage in the midst of an election campaign. An important consideration could have been the potential for negative publicity to damage the prospects of doing a deal with a Tory-led government if the Westminster election delivers a hung parliament.

Socialist Youth get phenomenal response

Wells will likely be replaced by another backward homophobe. However, the fact that he was forced to resign due to public opinion – with polls showing a large majority wanted him to go – will act as a warning to his successor and all the politicians at Stormont parliament buildings. Socialist Youth got a phenomenal response on the streets of Belfast to its call for people to get organised and force Wells to go. His resignation should also give confidence to those campaigning for LGBT rights that it is possible to fight for change.

While members of the DUP – which is dominated by religious fundamentalists – have made the most overtly bigoted comments about LGBT people, politicians from across the sectarian divide have opposed equal marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples. All the main parties are opposed to a woman’s right to choose and preside over archaic laws which deny women access to abortion even if the pregnancy is a result of rape! This dinosaur political establishment is completely out of touch, particularly with young people. We cannot wait for change to come from above. Instead, we need to get organised and go on the offensive to demand an end to LGBT discrimination, a woman’s right to choose and drag Northern Ireland into the 21st century.

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April 2015