AS the tussle for who would retain the keys of No10 was waged in the small hours of election night, nobody could have imagined that the burning issue would soon be gay marriage. All the talk was of hard and soft Brexits, of Theresa’s May’s precarious position and the SNP’s tail-spin. But when the Tories called in the cavalry, in the shape of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the tone changed. Shortly after they entered the ring, Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives and overnight saviour of the blue rosettes, called Mrs May looking for reassurance that the position of the LGBTI community in the rest of the UK would remain unchanged. For her, and gay colleagues such as Scottish Secretary David Mundell, not to mention the rest of the country’s LGBTI members, the arrival of the DUP as a prop to the Tory’s underperforming scrum must have felt like escaping the fire only to find yourself in the mouth of a cannon whose fuse is already lit.

The DUP’s position on gay marriage was once summed up by David Simpson, MP for Upper Bann, who informed the House of Commons that “in the Garden of Eden, it was Adam and Eve. It wasn’t Adam and Steve.” Ian Paisley, the party’s founder, spoke for many of his hardline persuasion when he declared homosexuality “immoral, offensive and obnoxious”.

How deeply and awkwardly ironic, therefore, that the Conservative Party’s only chance of staying in power rests on one hand upon the astonishing success of its lesbian party leader in Scotland and, on the other, on co-opting one of the narrowest-minded political parties in the UK to its side. Politicians usually excuse vigorous and vituperative arguments within the ranks by likening themselves to a big family, in which dissent, grumbling and occasional bust-ups are inevitable but essentially harmless. One fears, however, that the potential fall-out from the most improbable triangle of interests that the DUP’s involvement brings could make the internecine squabbling of the Corleones look amateurish.

Asked how comfortable he felt about doing a deal with the DUP, Mr Mundell stepped on to the ice with the air of a man who has long rehearsed keeping his balance without too obviously flapping his arms. He admitted that he would like to see it, and Northern Ireland, change their stance on the issue. “Change is brought about by persuasion, by people working together,” he said, and the best way to achieve this was to get the Assembly in Stormont back up and running.

How good that he did not duck the question, and that he and Ms Davidson are bullish on this most important and symbolically significant front. How interesting, too, that Northern Ireland’s outdated position on gay marriage was highlighted at the end of a week in which the Scottish Episcopal Church made the historic decision to allow its ministers to perform same-sex marriages. In so doing, it could become the first Christian organisation in Britain to conduct such ceremonies. Thus, while factions in the Church of England continue to struggle with the concept of women bishops, let alone homosexual unions, Scotland leads the way in its embrace of the LGBTI community.

To many, regardless of affiliation, the rights of gays and other sexual minorities are a distraction, if not an irrelevance just now. At a time of extreme political uncertainty and fragility, they believe we have far bigger fish to fry. To think this, however, is to misunderstand the fundamental point of politics. Elections are not about the fates of parties and their figureheads, and the over-heated soap opera that is the day to day jousting at Westminster or Holyrood. It is about us, the ordinary people, whose lives are materially altered by the pledges our leaders make and the statutes they put on our law books.

Seen from this perspective, gay marriage stands for more than equality alone. Of course it represents the full acknowledgement and acceptance of same-sex unions, the normalising of individuals who were once reviled, or worse. In the eyes of a society such as ours, who and what you are is no longer a big deal. Such relatively recent awareness and tolerance demonstrates not only a welcome broadening of our minds on the matter of sexuality, but far greater generosity of spirit about others in general, whatever their orientation, religion, or race. When same-sex marriage became legal in mainland Britain in 2014, a metaphorical flag was raised, announcing that everybody who lives here is entitled to be treated with respect. You might almost see this legislation as a tangible modern expression of humanity, a declaration of moral and ethical intent, invisibly ring-fenced with the injunction noli me tangere.

In Northern Ireland, however, same-sex marriage is not legal. There are various reasons for this, not least that its ongoing political troubles, and the murder and violence they brought for so long, made it a less than pressing issue. Even so, for those who consequently feel themselves treated as second-class citizens, their lives are greatly diminished.

Mr Mundell is absolutely right to suggest that minds are swayed by persuasion rather than by force, and I would like to be able to share his optimism in this instance. Should the DUP’s raised profile at Westminster lead to a change of heart in its home land over gay rights, what an unexpected and upbeat outcome that would be. In the current climate, however, that seems decidedly unlikely. Less cheeringly, for Mrs May to contemplate shackling Tory fortunes to a party in which the full rights of its LGBTI citizens languish behind the rest of Britain is alarming.

In the coming days we might get a hard-as-nails Brexit, or a rice-pudding deal with Europe. Mrs May might survive her trouncing, or be pitched overboard. Whatever happens, one of the most woeful results of this election is for a retrograde party like the DUP to be given a loudhailer, and more influence than they have either earned or deserve.