Jeffrey Donaldson is already being tipped as the next leader of the DUP after Edwin Poots stepped down on Thursday – and he has a long history of opposing LGBT+ rights.
Just weeks ago, Donaldson – who sits as an MP in the House of Commons – lost out in the party leadership contest to Poots. But the leadership of the staunchly religious political party was opened up again on Thursday evening (17 June) after Poots dramatically resigned just 20 days into his tenure.
Political pundits are already suggesting that Donaldson is his most likely successor. He came close to beating Poots in the party’s leadership election in May, winning 17 votes compared to his competitor’s 19 – indicating that he already has the support of a significant number of DUP politicians.
Donaldson is seen as a unifying figure who will bring stability back to the DUP – but he is unlikely to win much support from Northern Ireland’s LGBT+ community. Like many of his party colleagues, Donaldson has dedicated much of his career to opposing the rights of queer people in the region.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson voted against inclusive relationships and sex education
Marriage equality only became a reality in Northern Ireland in January 2020, several years after the rest of the UK allowed queer people to marry their partners. Jeffrey Donaldson was just one of the religious conservative figures who worked hard to block same-sex marriage in the region.
He previously served as vice president of the Keep Marriage Special campaign, which aggressively lobbied against same-sex marriage. The group even likened marriage between two people of the same gender to incest.
Jeffrey Donaldson also previously backed the use of peace process powers to veto marriage equality in Northern Ireland’s Assembly. Speaking after equal marriage moved forward in England and Wales, he said: “Our view would be that there certainly would not be a majority in favour in Northern Ireland of extending these powers to the province, and there is certainly no intention to legislate for this.”
He faced backlash from Northern Ireland’s LGBT+ community once again in March 2019, when he was one of the 21 MPs who voted against the introduction of inclusive sex and relationship education in English schools.
In February 2020, he claimed that sex and relationships education was being “taken over by ideologues and special interest groups who wish to promote their own agendas which in a number of cases are leading to serious child protection and safeguarding issues”.
He said he wanted to “alert parliamentarians to the dangers involved and the potential increase in emotional, psychological and physical harms that are already arising due to the way RSE is being handled in some schools.”
Furthermore, details of his voting record shows that he has voted against – or been absent – for every single legislative progression for LGBT+ people over the last two decades. He voted against the Civil Partnerships Bill in 2004 and went on to vote against same-sex marriage in 2013.
But then it’s not exactly surprising that Donaldson is opposed to LGBT+ rights – he is, after all, likely to be the next leader of a political party that was behind the Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign in the 1970s.
The DUP has never made a secret of its opposition to LGBT+ people’s right to live and love freely – and Jeffrey Donaldson has done nothing to challenge that legacy.