Today marks the 30th anniversary of the day when Denis Lemon was found guilty of committing libel against Christianity.
He was the editor of the now defunct but iconic UK newspaper Gay News.
Mary Whitehouse, founder of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, (NVLA) announced her intention to sue in December 1976 after she read the poem entitled The Love Which Cannot Speak Its Name by James Kirkup, published in Gay News.
Denis Lemon was sentenced to nine months suspended imprisonment and fined £500.
Publisher Gay News Limited was fined £1,000.
They were represented by creator of Rumpole of the Bailey and defence counsel at the Oz “conspiracy” trial in 1971 John Mortimer QC at the Old Bailey.
An appeal against the conviction was rejected by the House of Lords.
It still ‘illegal’ to publish the poem in the UK. However, it was published again in two socialist newspapers few days after the original trial the offending poem as a protest against censorship
It expresses the fictional love of a Roman Centurion for Jesus and describes him having sex with the Christ’s crucified body.
Her indictment submitted in December 1976 against Gay News stated:
“A blasphemous libel concerning the Christian religion, namely an obscene poem and illustration vilifying Christ in his life and in his crucifixion.”
Mrs Whitehouse was appointed a CBE in 1980.
The NVLA, now known as mediawatch, still regards their founder as the ‘late, great Mary Whitehouse.’
They maintain their objective that the organisation has kept pressure on broadcasting authorities (they no longer monitor the press) to explain standards of ‘taste and decency’ and that this objective is as relevant today as it was in the 1960s.
John Beyer, director of mediawatch told PinkNews.co.uk:
“I think that the prosecution was justified because it was upheld and the appeal was rejected.”
He says that with regard to ‘that poem.’ “The standards for decency still stand.”
The fact that the ban rankles sections of society which support gay rights and are against censorship, he says is “irrelevant.”
“It has nothing to do with ‘rights,’ the judicial process was followed and it was found to be a breach of the law. The fact remains that the law has not been repealed – the attitudes may have changed.
“Freedom comes with responsibility otherwise we end up with anarchy. The law of the land applies to everybody.”
He refused to express a more personal view on the matter.
“That is irrelevant.”
“It is a weakness in the judicial system that the same law cannot be upheld when the poem is re-published in other sections of the media.”
The poem has become easily accessible and can easily be found on the internet.
The poet, James Kirkup, 89, now lives in Andorra. He continues to work and frequently contributes obituaries to newspapers.
Mr Lemon fell ill with an AIDS-related illness and sold Gay News in 1982.
It closed down in 1983. Mr Lemon died in July 1994.
The controversial poem is reproduced below:
The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name
By James Kirkup
As they took him from the cross
I, the centurion, took him in my arms-
the tough lean body
of a man no longer young,
but well hung.
He was still warm.
While they prepared the tomb
I kept guard over him.
His mother and the Magdalen
had gone to fetch clean linen
to shroud his nakedness.
I was alone with him.
For the last time
I kissed his mouth. My tongue
found his, bitter with death.
I licked his wound-
the blood was harsh
For the last time
I laid my lips around the tip
of that great cock, the instrument
of our salvation, our eternal joy.
The shaft, still throbbed, anointed
with death’s final ejaculation
I knew he’d had it off with other men-
with Herod’s guards, with Pontius Pilate,
With John the Baptist, with Paul of Tarsus
with foxy Judas, a great kisser, with
the rest of the Twelve, together and apart.
He loved all men, body, soul and spirit. – even me.
So now I took off my uniform, and, naked,
lay together with him in his desolation,
caressing every shadow of his cooling flesh,
hugging him and trying to warm him back to life.
Slowly the fire in his thighs went out,
while I grew hotter with unearthly love.
It was the only way I knew to speak our love’s proud name,
to tell him of my long devotion, my desire, my dread-
something we had never talked about. My spear, wet with blood,
his dear, broken body all open wounds,
and in each wound his side, his back,
his mouth – I came and came and came
as if each coming was my last.
And then the miracle possessed us.
I felt him enter into me, and fiercely spend
his spirit’s finbal seed within my hole, my soul,
pulse upon pulse, unto the ends of the earth-
he crucified me with him into kingdom come.
-This is the passionate and blissful crucifixion
same-sex lovers suffer, patiently and gladly.
They inflict these loving injuries of joy and grace
one upon the other, till they dies of lust and pain
within the horny paradise of one another’s limbs,
with one voice cry to heaven in a last divine release.
Then lie long together, peacefully entwined, with hope
of resurrection, as we did, on that green hill far away.
But before we rose again, they came and took him from me.
They knew not what we had done, but felt
no shame or anger. Rather they were glad for us,
and blessed us, as would he, who loved all men.
And after three long, lonely days, like years,
in which I roamed the gardens of my grief
seeking for him, my one friend who had gone from me,
he rose from sleep, at dawn, and showed himself to me before
all others. And took me to him with
the love that now forever dares to speak its name.