The three men vying to become the next Mayor of London have spoken to PinkNews.co.uk about a new law that would make incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation an offence.
Ken Livingstone, who has been Mayor since 2000, said that many lesbian and gay people in London experience high levels of violence, abuse, threats and insults and welcomed the proposed legislation.
“The sort of thing that should fall under such legislation, for example, would be the hatred incited by the far right when they assert that all homosexuals are paedophiles,” he said.
“Any proposal for incitement to homophobic hatred legislation must be effective. That means it must meet at least the standard set by the 1986 Public Order Act provisions against incitement to racial hatred.
“Anything that falls short of this, as was unfortunately the case with the Act outlawing incitement to religious hatred, is likely to be ineffective and so bring the law into disrepute.”
Brian Paddick, who this week was chosen by Liberal Democrat members in London to be their Mayoral candidate, told PinkNews.co.uk:
“LGBT people have a equal right to the protection of the law and it cannot be right that there is an offence of inciting racial and religious hatred and no law to protect the LGBT community in similar circumstances.
“We have to protect the right to free speech and we have to make sure that the right balance is achieved between criminalising incitement to hatred and people being able to express their legitimate views.”
Tory candidate Boris Johnson, in an interview with PinkNews.co.uk published in September, said that he was concerned about protection of free speech, a view echoed by several gay commentators such as Times journalist Matthew Parris.
“Of course I want everybody to feel safe, and I deplore homophobic attacks,” Mr Johnson said.
“I think they’re outrageous and disgusting and I will fight against them if I’m lucky enough to be Mayor.
“I loathe acts that encourage hatred of groups. But sometimes the very measures we take can kind of stir things up rather than produce harmony.
“What I worry about is that you have erosions in free speech that I don’t think anyone in the gay community would ultimately support.
“What we want is for people to debate freely and rationally and not to succumb to bigotry.”
The incitement to religious hatred law was originally designed to mirror the provisions of the racial protections set out in the 1986 Act.
During its passage through Parliament last year it was amended by the Lords to require that a person be shown to have intended to stir up religious hatred and not just that they might have done so.
The law was also amended so that only threatening words, and not those judged to be abusive or insulting, were criminalised.
The government-proposed clauses in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill covering incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and disability are expected to be published before a Commons debate on them at the end of November.
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay equality organisation Stonewall, gave evidence to a House of Commons committee about the proposed legislation last month.
He told PinkNews.co.uk:
“We have been absolutely clear from day one that these should be robust protections.
“There is no point having a new law just in order to pass parliamentary time.
“When we see the proposed clauses we will test them very specifically against cases we have come across.
“One test would be the BNP leaflet distributed on a council estate where gay people live, saying all gay people are paedophiles. We will get counsel to test any clauses against real cases.”
In The Times last month Mathew Parris said that if homophobic insults were to become unlawful, “why should we remain free to sneer, in ways inciting hatred, at a person’s being Welsh, or Irish?
“Lines of absolute principle are hard to draw, but some groups may be so weak and fragile as to need the law’s protection from hateful speech. I’d like to think we gays are no longer among them.”
The election for Mayor of London will be held on May 1st 2008.
Sian Berry will be standing for the Green party, Gerard Batten will be the UKIP candidate, Lindsey German has been selected to stand for the Respect party and Richard Barnbrook will be standing for the BNP.
Tabloid journalist Garry Bushell is the English Democrats candidate and the One London party will contest the election but have yet to select a candidate.