A Liberal Democrat MP has defended an amendment designed to ensure that homophobic Christians can continue to express their views on gay people.
Colin Breed, who is a lay Methodist preacher, claims that the move, which is also supported by Ann Widdecombe, is about “freedom of speech.”
The amendment to the Criminal Justice bill seeks to block a proposed new offence of incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.
“Nothing in this part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion of, criticism of or expressions of antipathy towards, conduct relating to a particular sexual orientation, or urging persons of a particular sexual orientation to refrain from or modify conduct relating to that orientation.”
Among the MPs asking for the right to show antipathy towards their gay constituents are: Lib Dem Alan Beith (Berwick Upon Tweed); Conservatives Philip Hollobone (Kettering) and Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and the Weald); and Labour MPs David Taylor (North West Leicestershire) and Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton).
The amendment is almost certain to be defeated as the homophobic incitement proposal has gained cross-party support.
Mr Breed, the MP for South East Cornwall, has been a consistent opponent of gay rights.
He told the Cornish Guardian:
“We want to stop this law so the government will see that when the motion comes forward to accept this law, they will heed our proposed changes and amend it.”
His comments are at odds with his party’s stance on the proposed new law protecting gay people as a group from attack.
In an interview with PinkNews.co.uk published today, the Lib Dem spokesperson on Justice David Heath said:
“We (the party) have been convinced for some time that there is, first of all a reservoir of extreme prejudice against gay people.
“Secondly, prejudice is one thing, having it manifest itself as attacks, in one form or another, is something that we should be very concerned about. I am convinced by the evidence that there is a real problem.
“That’s why, as far as I’m concerned, the case is proven for having something of this kind.
“Anyone who is expressing themselves in a reasonable way, even if what they’re saying is wholly abhorrent to most right thinking people, will not be get caught under this law, unless what they’re saying is an incitement to hatred against a whole class of people.”
A new offence of incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation was a manifesto commitment from all Lib Dem MPs at the last election.
Concerns about freedom of speech in relation to the new law have already been addressed by the government and MPs when the proposal was put before a committee.
Stonewall, the gay equality organisation, gave evidence about the sort of incitement to homophobic murder and hatred that goes unchallenged.
Chief executive Ben Summerskill quoted extensively from the homophobic lyrics of dancehall star Beenie Man and others to demonstrate the nature of their comments about gay men and lesbians.
MPs were read excerpts from BNP leaflets claiming the government were trying to “legalise child sex” by equalising the age of consent.
Mr Summerskill rejected concerns that a law banning incitement to religious hatred would be used to silence the voices of religious people who regard homosexuality as a sin.
“We are crystal clear that people are perfectly entitled to express their religious views. We are also crystal clear that the temperate expression of religious views should not be covered by the legislation.”
Justice minister Maria Eagle has also confirmed that Christians will continue to have the right to express their homophobic views.
“If you are a preacher and on Sunday morning you tell your sermon of your beliefs and the beliefs of your denomination about gay people then that’s different to going and standing outside a gay club and using threatening words and behaviour,” she told PinkNews.co.uk
“The intent is the key. That is very clearly unacceptable and that’s where we are pitching the offence.”