As MP’s vote on equalising the gay age of consent next Monday, 22nd June, lesbian and gay rights supporters will hold a mass “Vigil for Equality” outside the House of Commons, from 6 – 10 p.m., calling for the repeal of all laws that discriminate against homosexual men and women.
OutRage! is urging its friends and supporters to join Monday’s Vigil, to highlight our agenda for full human rights, (see below).
Organised by the new Equality Alliance –a coalition of over 100 gay rights groups, including OutRage!– the Vigil’s theme is: “16 is not enough! Scrap ALL antigay laws!”.
“Winning an equal age of consent will be an important advance”, said John Hunt of OutRage!. “But it will still leave many other homophobic laws unchanged.
“We won’t be content merely with an equal age of consent. ALL antigay laws must go. We will not settle for anything less than TOTAL EQUALITY.
“Many MP’s think we will be content if they just equalise the age of consent. That is most assuredly not the case. We won’t be satisfied until every discriminatory law is abolished. It is vital the lesbian and gay community tells Parliament that one reform is not enough. Equality at 16 has got to be the first step in a rolling programme of homosexual law reform”, said Hunt.
To this end, on the night of the vote, OutRage! will be highlighting six key civil rights demands:
On Friday, 12th June, Canterbury Magistrates Court refused to allow gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell to witness summons the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey.
Mr. Tatchell condemned the decision as “unjust and unfair”. “I am being denied the right to call a witness who is crucial to my defence”, he said.
“Dr. Carey’s evidence is necessary to establish the facts of the case. He was the only person who witnessed the entire protest from start to finish. The court’s refusal to summon the Archbishop will seriously hamper my defence against the charge of ‘indecency’.”
The court also turned down Mr. Tatchell’s request to secure evidence that is being withheld by the prosecution. His bid to change the venue of his trial was also denied.
Mr. Tatchell’s trial date was today fixed for 25th and 28th September at Canterbury Magistrates Court. He is charged with “indecent behaviour in a church”, contrary to Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act of 1860, (formerly part of the Brawling Act of 1551), following his interruption of Dr. Carey’s Easter Sunday sermon in Canterbury Cathedral.
Mr. Tatchell’s request for the disclosure of unused prosecution evidence was rejected by the court, even though it was conceded that this material may undermine the case against him. “The prosecution admitted the evidence they are withholding could aid my defence”, said Mr. Tatchell. “Being denied these documents will make it harder for me to win this case”.
Mr. Tatchell’s application to move the trial from Canterbury to another town was also refused. He argued the trial should be transferred because one of the key prosecution witnesses is a magistrate at the Canterbury Court.
“It would not be appropriate for the trial to be heard by magistrates who may be friends of a prosecution witness”, said Tatchell. The court ruled that his case be heard by a stipendiary magistrate from outside the Canterbury area.
“Despite these setbacks, I will continue to fight this case on the issues of free speech and the right to peaceful protest. The real crime is Dr. Carey’s support for discrimination against lesbians and gay men, not my demonstration for human rights in the Cathedral.”
DEFENCE FUND APPEAL
OutRage! is appealing for contributions to the Peter Tatchell Defence Fund.
“We need financial help to fight this prosecution”, said David Allison of OutRage!. “Peter’s case is an important test of civil liberties. We must defend the right to peaceful protest and resist this attempt to stifle freedom of speech”.
Cheques should be made payable to “OutRage!” and sent to:
OutRage!, P.O. Box 17816, London. SW14 8WT
American playwright, Terrence McNally, (Love! Valour! Compassion!), has had a scheduled run of his new play, Corpus Christi, cancelled by the prestigious Manhattan Theatre Club in New York, following threats to kill the staff, burn down the theatre and “exterminate” McNally.
McNally’s play –modelled on the biblical story of Jesus– is about a young gay man, Joshua, and his sexual adventures with his 12 disciples.
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in New York has vowed to “wage a war” against any attempt to stage the play. Top playwrights –Tony Kushner, Edward Albee and Athol Fugard– have urged the theatre to reverse its cancellation, accusing the theatre of “capitulation to right-wing extremists and religious zealots”.
The depiction of a gay Jesus has been defended on the grounds of artistic freedom and legitimate historical speculation by the London-based gay rights group OutRage!. It claims that a suppressed version of St. Mark’s gospel –which remains the subject of academic dispute– alludes to Jesus having a homosexual relationship with a youth he raised from the dead.
According to the U.S. Biblical scholar, Morton Smith, of Columbia University, a fragment of manuscript he found at the Mar Saba monastery near Jerusalem in 1958, showed that the full text of St. Mark chapter 10 (between verses 34 and 35 in the standard version of the Bible) contains a passage which includes the following text. —
“And the youth, looking upon him (Jesus), loved him and beseeched that he might remain with him. And going out of the tomb, they went into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days, Jesus instructed him and, at evening, the youth came to him wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God”.
Peter Tatchell of OutRage! says there is no authoritative information about Jesus’s sexuality: “We don’t know for sure whether Jesus was straight, gay, bisexual or celibate. There is no evidence for the Church’s presumption that he was heterosexual. Nothing in the Bible points to him having relationships with women. The possibility that Christ was gay cannot be ruled out.
“Since there is no proof of the heterosexuality of Jesus, the theological basis of Church homophobia is all the more shaky and indefensible.
“Jesus was born a man and therefore presumably had male sexual feelings. But there are no references in the gospels to his sexuality. Large chunks of Jesus’s life are missing from the Biblical accounts. This has fuelled speculation that the early Church sanitised the gospels, removing references to Christ’s sexuality that were not in accord with the heterosexual morality that it wanted to promote”, said Peter Tatchell.
Faced with mounting pressure in support of McNally, the Manhattan Theatre Club has now reversed its previous ban, and has agreed to stage Corpus Christi in September.
After being staged in New York, Corpus Christi has now just completed a run as part of the Edinburgh Festival.
The Government has rejected proposals by OutRage! to amend the Human Rights Bill to ensure the antidiscrimination clause –Article 14– is interpreted by the courts to ban discrimination against lesbians and gays and people with HIV (and the elderly and disabled).
It has also turned down OutRage!’s bid to amend the Crime and Disorder Bill to extend the tough new penalties for race-hate attacks to all prejudice-motivated violence, including assaults on homosexuals.
PROTECTION AGAINST DISCRIMINATION — Human Rights Bill
In a letter to Peter Tatchell of OutRage!, Home Office Minister Mike O’Brien says the Government is “unable to accept” the OutRage! amendment to the Human Rights Bill.
“The amendment might lead to our courts interpreting Article 14 more widely than has been interpreted in Strasbourg … that would be contrary to the principle of the Bill which is to improve access to the Convention rights, not to modify or widen them”, wrote Mr. O’Brien.
Peter Tatchell of OutRage! denies this: “Our amendment does not create new rights or expand the scope of Article 14. It seeks to ensure that Article 14 is interpreted, as worded, to guarantee equal treatment to everyone, without discrimination”.
HATE CRIMES — Crime and Disorder Bill
Responding to OutRage!’s hate crimes amendment to the Crime and Disorder Bill, Mr. O’Brien wrote: “The Government wants a focused response to racist crime, which poses a particular threat to the development of a stable society. Many of our citizens suffer daily fear that they will be attacked or harassed because of their racial background. Any addition to include homophobic violence risks diluting the message that we want to send”.
According to Peter Tatchell: “The Home Office is saying that homophobic hate crimes don’t merit tougher penalties. This sends the wrong signal. Queer-bashers will now conclude that the Government is soft on antigay violence. The Home Office policy is divisive. All crimes of prejudice should be punished with the same severity”.
The Goverment’s rejection of OutRage!’s proposals comes after five months’ consultation and negotiation, including a Home Office meeting between Peter Tatchell and Mike O’Brien.
OutRage! is now organising backbench MP’s to table revised amendments. It expects them to be debated when the two Bills come up again in Parliament.
The Bill received Royal Assent on 9-November-1998.