Stop Crucifying Queers!
OutRage!'s Easter Sunday protest in Canterbury Cathedral against Church homophobia is defended.
Peter Tatchell's prosecution under an obscure 1860 Act - which gives the Church privileged protection against dissent - was a violation of free speech and the right to protest.
On Easter Sunday 1998, myself and six other members of the London queer rights group, OutRage!, walked into the pulpit of Canterbury Cathedral as the leader of the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, began his sermon. We held up placards and I addressed the congregation, condemning Dr Carey's opposition to an equal age of consent, homosexual marriage, gay fostering and employment rights for lesbians and gay men.
The OutRage! protest in Canterbury Cathedral was denounced by some people as sacrilegious and blasphemous. I would suggest, however, that our minor disruption of the Easter Service pales into insignificance when compared to Dr Carey's support for discrimination against queers. What is truly appalling is his homophobia, not our intervention seeking justice.
For 2,000 years, the churches have crucified queers. Until the early nineteenth century, Christian leaders in Britain and most other European countries backed the death penalty for homosexuality. Over the centuries, tens of thousands of "abominable sodomites" were burnt at the stake and hung from gallows with the blessing of Bishops and Archbishops. Even today, the churches refuse to apologise for their involvement in the mass murder of queers.
Christian leaders now, of course, no longer advocate the killing of homosexuals. Instead, they argue for the suppression of lesbian and gay human rights.
Under Britain's semi-feudal political system, unelected Bishops sit in the House of Lords (the upper house of parliament). They use their legislative power to oppose homosexual equality. During the vote on whether to equalise the gay age of consent in 1994, not a single Bishop voted in favour of equal rights - thereby contributing to the maintenance of a discriminatory age of consent.
More recently, the Bishops in the House of Lords, with the support of Dr Carey, succeeded in forcing through an amendment to the anti-discrimination clause of the Human Rights Bill. This amendment, partly accepted by the Labour government, will allow religious institutions to continue to deny equal treatment to homosexuals. It was this and other blatant church endorsements of homophobic discrimination that led us to protest in Canterbury Cathedral on Easter Sunday.
Our success in confronting Dr Carey and exposing his homophobia resulted in cries of condemnation from some people. But those who were angered by our brief, peaceful protest in the Cathedral never seem to get outraged by the Christian persecution of lesbians and gay men. Why not? Their perverted moral priorities see no great scandal in homophobia. To them, the real scandal is, apparently, that the victims of homophobia dare to confront their religious persecutors in a Cathedral during the Eucharist. Why do these people show more concern about maintaining the decorum of a church service than about the Church-sanctioned violation of queer human rights?
Our Easter protest was necessary because Dr Carey is unwilling to listen to the concerns of the homosexual community. In the eight years since he became Archbishop, he has refused to meet gay organisations. He won't meet even fellow Anglicans who belong to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. When Dr Carey slams the door on dialogue, confronting him is the only option.
On four major lesbian and gay civil rights issues, the Anglican leader condones inequality.
By advocating a gay male age of consent of 18 (instead of 16, as for heterosexuals and lesbians) the Archbishop endorses the criminalisation of 16 and 17 year old gay men who face up to two years in jail for consenting queer relationships. Indeed, on the eve of the June 1998 vote on the age of consent, Dr Carey urged MPs to vote for discrimination.
Dr Carey condemns gay marriage and refuses to support legal rights for homosexual couples, which deprives same-sex partners of recognition as next-of-kin in the event of illness or death.
The Church of England Children's Society, with the approval of the Archbishop, bans lesbian and gay foster parents; resulting in young people, who could be cared for by loving and responsible gay couples, being left to suffer in the emotional coldness of a children's home.
Ruling out any role in the Church for clergy in homosexual relationships, Dr Carey gives a green light to the harassment and dismissal of lesbian and gay priests.
We therefore make no apology for challenging the Archbishop over his abuse of queer human rights. The real disgrace is not OutRage!'s Cathedral protest, but Dr Carey's advocacy of discrimination.
There is, of course, a personal price to be paid for exposing the Archbigot of Cant. I am now charged with "indecent behaviour" in a church, contrary to the 1860 Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act. Under this ancient law, which dates back to the medieval era, actions that disturb the sanctity of a church are deemed indecent and criminal. This means that any form of protest in a church is unlawful. Freedom of speech does not exist on ecclesiastical property. This gives the Church privileged protection against protest. No other institution has such special, sweeping powers to suppress dissent.
I intend to fight the prosecution on the issue of free speech. The right to protest does not (or should not) stop at the door of a church. Why is it a crime for me to criticise the Archbishop of Canterbury in his Cathedral? The 1860 Act is an affront to democracy and should be repealed.
Wordt Vervolgd, Amnesty International Magazine, Netherlans, July / August 1998. Expanded version published in LM Magazine, February 1999.
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