A Northern Ireland Assembly motion condemning government plans to introduce equality legislation for gays, lesbians and bisexuals in the New Year fell today after a dead heat.
The DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson was accused of homophobia by Sinn Féin for moving the motion after he claimed the law could lead to harassment claims by gay pupils against teachers who teach traditional Christian views on homosexuality.
After a tetchy two-hour debate at Stormont, 39 Assembly members voted in favour of the DUP motion and 39 against. The dead heat meant that the motion was not carried.
At the start of the debate on Northern Secretary Peter Hain's plans to implement the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations on January 1st, Mr Donaldson also warned that Christian-run businesses could face prosecution for denying gays, lesbians and bisexuals services and following their own faith's teachings.
He told the Assembly: "If a teacher teaches orthodox Christian belief that homosexual practice is sinful, then a pupil who self-identifies as being gay could make a claim for harassment, claiming it has had the effect of violating their dignity or of creating an intimidatory, humiliating or offensive environment.
"Is that the sort of situation we want to place our teachers in today in Northern Ireland?"
Mr Donaldson criticised the British government's handling of the legislation, claiming that people in Northern Ireland had been given less time to take part in a consultation exercise on the proposals than their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Sinn Féin equality spokeswoman Caitriona Ruane accused the DUP of stirring up homophobia.
"Everybody should have the same rights and protections," the South Down Assembly member said. "There is no halfway house. You cannot have rights for some people and not for others."