Northern Ireland's health minister, Jim Wells, said last night that children raised by gay parents "are more likely to be abused and neglected".
The comments came during a hustings in South Down, the DUP politician's constituency, at which the topic of same-sex marriage emerged. Wells said during the debate: "The facts shows that certainly if you bring a child up in a homosexual relationship that a child is more likely to be abused and neglected."
His assertions were immediately met by heckles, with members of the audience shouting "Rubbish!" and "You should be ashamed of yourself."
The reaction on social media has been equally explosive, causing the minister's name to trend in the UK.
Accusations of homophobia quickly emerged on Twitter.
Labour's LGBT group soon condemned the remarks.
The SDLP's Colum Eastwood said in a statement that Wells should be "ashamed of himself".
"Not satisfied with his already robust opposition to equality for those who define as LGBT, Mr Wells has gone far beyond the limits of acceptable behaviour," said Eastwood. "To suggest that children raised by gay parents are more likely to be abused is a baseless slur on an entire community.
"The minister must immediately withdraw these comments and issue a full apology to those who he has seriously wronged tonight. His track record on equality for the LGBT community is there for all to see. From describing gay pride as 'repugnant' to spending thousands of pounds of public money on defending the ban on gay men donating blood, he has allowed his own bias to infect his decision making and taint his judgment."
Even members of Wells' own party expressed their concern. Pam Cameron, the DUP candidate for Antrim, tweeted her disapproval.
The minister issued an apology this morning, citing "extremely difficult" times he has experienced in recent weeks, following his wife's ill health:
I had just come from a hospital visit and my focus was not on the debate. I have listened to a recording of the relevant part of the debate. I accept that one line of what I said caused offence and deep concern amongst members of the audience and beyond. I regret having wrongly made that remark about abuse and I'm sorry those words were uttered. The comment did not reflect my view nor that of my party.
Within seconds of realising this error, I asked the chairman to let me back in and twice corrected my remarks before the debate moved on. This clarification has been confirmed by the journalists present at the event. Partial clips, spin and selective reporting regrettably miss this.
The neglect or abuse of children is awful and happens in unstable relationships whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. I make no distinction between anyone who neglects or abuses a child regardless of their sexual orientation. I trust people will accept my explanation and my apology.
Mike Nesbitt, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, told the BBC's Stephen Nolan that an apology was not enough.
"Jim Wells needs to do more in deed and in action to prove that the real Jim Wells is reflected in this morning's statement rather than in yesterday's comment," he said.
And Chris Hazard, the Sinn Féin candidate for South Down, questioned the apology too.
"Unfortunately, this is only the latest in a long line of attacks on the LGBT community by the DUP," Hazard said. "I am calling on his party leader Peter Robinson to make it clear where he stands on Mr Wells' views."
The Irish News claimed that Jim Wells initially denied making the remarks.
A petition has been started on change.org calling for Wells to resign.
Patrick Strudwick is a LGBT editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Patrick Strudwick at email@example.com.
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