December 13th, 2012

Me with Red Ribbon

Reform Section 5 of the Public Order Act: We won the Lords vote!

The Police Officer, the Student and the Pantomine Horse, Home Office

Photographer: Rakshita Patel

On Monday 10 December 2012, on a bitterly cold December morning, the Reform Section 5 campaign staged a protest. Peter Tatchell, dressed as a police officer, a student, and a pantomine horse (we could not get a real horse on such short notice - they were all "busy"!), gathered outside the Home Office HQ at 2 Marsham Street, London (ironically my old place of work) to highlight the case of an Oxford student who was arrested in 2005 under Section 5 of the Public Order Act for joking that a police officer's horse was gay.

This is the video of our protest (featuring my purple woolly hat and my hand - FINALLY my 5 seconds of celebrity!):

Photographer: Rakshita Patel

You can view more photos from the protest here:

Why were we doing this?

Cut and pasted from the Peter Tatchell Foundation Website:

The House of Lords will today (Wednesday 12 December) debate an amendment by Lord Dear to end the criminalisation of mere insults. His amendment 119 to the Crime and Courts Bill repeals the ban on insults in Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. Lord Dear is the former Chief Constable of West Midlands and the former HM Inspector of Constabulary.

“The insults clause of Section 5 menaces free speech. It has been misused too many times to suppress freedom of expression. Reform of the law is supported by the present and previous Director of Public Prosecutions, the former Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, Liberty, Justice and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as well as the Reform Section 5 campaign. The Association of Chief Police Officers has no objection to reform,” said Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, which is backing the repeal of the insults clause.

“The criminalisation of insults is far too subjective and constitutes a dangerously low prosecution threshold. Anyone who values free speech and robust debate should welcome its removal from Section 5.

“The Section 5 ban on insults has been abused to variously arrest people protesting peacefully against abortion and campaigning for gay equality and animal welfare. Other victims include Christian street preachers and critics of Scientology.

“Freedom of expression is one of the most important of all human rights. It should be only restricted in extreme circumstances. The open exchange of ideas - including unpalatable, even offensive ones - is the hallmark of a free and democratic society,” he said.

Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 criminalises “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour...within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.”

“There is no requirement to prove that anyone has been harassed, alarmed or distressed. The mere likelihood is sufficient to secure a conviction. Moreover, an offence is committed regardless of the offender’s intention. Innocently intended words can result in a criminal record. The police and the courts can decide if a person might feel insulted. This is a threat to free speech.

“What constitutes a criminal insult is completely elastic and subjective, which is why people have been arrested for criticising homosexuality and Islamist extremists.

"This legislation has been on the statue books 26 years. It was initially introduced to tackle football hooliganism and public disorder. The legislation is now being misused to criminalise people for trivial comments, including those who were simply expressing their views or beliefs.

“The Reform Section 5 campaign includes all shades of opinion, from the Christian Institute to the National Secular Society, Freedom Association, Big Brother Watch and the Peter Tatchell Foundation. On this issue, we’ve sunk our differences and are working together to defend free speech and the right to protest," said Mr Tatchell.

Simon Calvert, Reform Section 5 Campaign Director, concluded by saying:

“I don’t think any campaign has united such a diverse range of campaigners, MPs from Left and Right, faith-based groups and secularists. The support for reform is overwhelming.

“It cannot be right for the collective voices of so many to be ignored and we challenge the Government to back Lord Dear’s amendment in the House of Lords today.”

You can read the full story here:

The Result

We won the vote in the House of Lords - HOORAY!

150 Lords voted in favour of Reform and 54 against. Therefore an overwhelming majority of the Lords voted FOR Reform.

Congratulations to the Reform Section 5 Campaign, Peter Tatchell and the Peter Tatchell Foundation, the National Secular Society, and the Christian Institute for WINNING the vote in the Lords - Very well done!

The website for the Reform Section 5 Campaign, where you can read up all about the campaign, is here:

The story is best reported in Pink News (which features my photo!):
Peter Tatchell hails House of Lords’ decision to pass insults law amendment:

The story is now also on the National Secular Society website. See here:

Photographer: Rakshita Patel
Me with Red Ribbon

UK Government Unveils Equal Marriage Proposals

Photo credit:

Cut and pasted from the DCMS Website:

Government sets out plan for equal marriage

Same-sex couples in England and Wales will be allowed to marry.

Minister for Women and Equalities Maria Miller announced on Tuesday 11 December that legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies will be brought forward next year.

The historic move will also contain protections for religious organisations that do not want to conduct same-sex marriages through a ‘quadruple lock’ of measures in domestic legislation, but will also allow them to ‘opt in’ to carry out same-sex marriages if they choose.

Equality for all

“Marriage is one of the most important institutions we have in this country,” said Mrs Miller.

“It binds us together, brings long-term commitment and stability, and makes society stronger. Our proposals mean that marriage would be available to everyone. I feel strongly that, if a couple wish to show their love and commitment to each other, the State should not stand in their way.”

Mrs Miller also made clear “that no religious organisation will ever be forced to conduct marriages for same-sex couples, and I would not bring in a bill which allowed that. European law already puts religious freedom beyond doubt, and we will go even further by bringing in an additional ‘quadruple legal lock’. But, it is also a key aspect of religious freedom that those bodies who want to opt-in should be able to do so.”

The 13 week consultation received a record 228,000 responses with 53 per cent of people responding to the consultation favouring the introduction of equal marriage.

You can find the full press release here:

You can find the full story here:

Photo credit:

Raks's Reaction

All of this is BRILLIANT news but there are two key obstacles remaining to full equality:

- The Church of England, the established Church, should NOT be exempt and should not be banned from conducting same-sex marriages; and
- Civil Partnerships should be open and available to all, gay and straight.

Cut and pasted from the Peter Tatchell Foundation Website:

Gay Marriage: Anglican exemption open to legal challenge

Ban on heterosexual civil partnerships to remain. Gay couples will have legal advantage under Cameron plan

“The government’s commitment to allow most religious organisations to conduct same-sex marriages - but not the Church of England and the Church in Wales - is a disappointing fudge that perpetuates inequality. Denying these churches the right to opt in and host same-sex marriages undermines gay equality and religious freedom,” said Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

“Exempting the official established church sends the wrong signal. There is no reason why these churches should be treated differently from other faiths.

“This faith-based discrimination could be open to legal challenge. The government is treating two churches differently from all other religions. Discriminating between faith groups is probably illegal under the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

“It is very foolish of the government to appear to be caving in to the demands of intolerant religious lobbyists by making it illegal for the Church of England and Church in Wales to conduct religious same-sex marriages, even if they want to do so.

“These exemptions undermine the praise the government deserves for sticking to its pledge to legalise same-sex marriage. The commitment to marriage equality is commendable

“Permitting same-sex couples with civil partnerships to convert them into civil marriages is a positive move.

“Retaining the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships is a huge failing. It deprives heterosexual couples of legal equality. I strongly support the right of straight people to equal treatment.

“Under the government’s plans, gay couples will soon have legal privileges over heterosexual couples.

“There will be two forms of official state recognition for lesbian and gay couples: the present system of civil partnerships plus marriage. Heterosexual couples will have only one option: marriage.

“The Equal Love campaign will continue our legal appeal in the European Court of Human Rights, in a bid to win the right of opposite-sex couples to have a civil partnership, if they wish to do so,” said Mr Tatchell.

Read the full story here:

And see this feature in Gay Star News (GSN):
‘Church gay marriage ban open to legal challenge,’ says Peter Tatchell
Veteran gay rights campaigner says the Church of England and Wales ban on performing same-sex unions is illegal according to European law:‘church-gay-marriage-ban-open-legal-challenge’-says-peter-tatchell111212

In conclusion, the Government has now set out its proposals for legislating for Equal Marriage. All three main political parties have now decided to give their MPs a free vote. So ... WATCH THIS SPACE!