Northern Ireland’s health minister, Jim Wells, has quit after making a string of homophobic comments.

Last week, Wells was forced to apologise after he claimed in a hustings meeting that children were ‘more likely to be abused in “unstable” relationships,’ before he was shouted down, with people shouting, ‘rubbish’. He added that ‘facts show you certainly don’t bring a child up in a homosexual relationship’, and that ‘the demands of the gay lobby are insatiable.’

On Saturday, a complaint was made to the police following comments he made to a lesbian couple while canvassing for votes. Wells is reported to have said he did not agree with their lifestyle; when he returned later to apologise to the couple, the daughter of one of the women said her mother was too upset by his remarks to accept his apologies. The woman added: ‘He kept saying about lifestyle choices and how it was wrong, how his party didn’t believe in lifestyle choices. My mum’s partner actually told him she’d voted DUP all her life and he’s now lost her vote.’

In a statement, Wells addressed the homophobic comments, saying: ‘At no time did I set out to upset or offend anyone and it has upset me greatly that the comments made have caused distress to some within our community.’ But he insisted that he had resigned because of the ill health of his wife, and not because of his own homophobia.

Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, said: ‘Jim Wells is a bigot’, while Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said the furore was an indication of the ‘truly backward-looking views from the DUP.’

Wells had only been in his job since September last year, and was infamous for his strongly religious views, which include opposing abortion even for women who have been raped.