U.K. Granny Objects to Gay Pride, Gets Police Warning
In an incident that has been denounced by GLTB equality advocates and anti-gay Christians alike, a grandmother in England was visited by local police after she sent a letter complaining about a gay pride parade.
An Oct. 26 article at the Mail Online described 67-year-old Pauline Howe, who was reported to be married to a Baptist minister, as a "committed Christian."
It was from the perspective of a Christian, said Ms. Howe, who lives near Norwich, England, that she sent her letter to a local government agency condemning a Pride parade as a "public display of indecency" and "offensive to God," the article said. Ms. Howe’s letter went on to call the participants in the event "sodomites," and make a number of broad claims, including the assertion that same-sex intimacy had
"contributed to the downfall of every empire" and "was a major cause of sexually transmitted infections’."
In her letter, Ms. Howe declared that, "It is shameful that this small but vociferous lobby should be allowed such a display unwarranted by the minimal number of homosexuals."
Local officials sent a pair of Norwich policemen to investigate, since the letter raised concerns about hate speech. In a letter to Ms. Howe, county official Bridget Buttinger explained that, "The content of your letter has been assessed as potentially being hate related because of the views you expressed towards people of a certain sexual orientation.... Your details and details of the contents of your letter have been recorded as such and passed to the police."
The visit from two officers came later, and the policemen clarified for Ms. Howe that her choice of wording made her missive appear to be an example of hate speech.
However, Ms. Howe insists that her invective was not hate-based; rather, she told the media, she was simply speaking as a Christian. Ms. Howe added,
Ms. Howe expressed her shock and dismay at the visit, and excoriated the police for "wasting resources" on a visit to her home that she said "made me feel threatened. It was a very unpleasant experience."
Added Ms. Howe, "The officers told me that my letter was thought to be an intention of hate but I was expressing views as a Christian." The article said that the incident is being looked into by the Christian Institute as a possible example of religious freedoms and rights to free expression being trampled. A similar case, the article noted, in which a married couple in Lancashire professed their Christian beliefs in anti-gay language and were visited by the police resulted in a payout to the couple.
The article quoted Christian Institute spokesperson Mike Judge as saying, "People must be free to express their beliefs--yes, even unpopular beliefs--to government bodies without fear of a knock at the door from police." The article went on to quote Judge as saying, "It’s not a crime to be Christian but it increasingly feels like it."
The Norwich police said that they were simply doing their job in looking into the letter, stating, "We investigate all alleged hate incidents. In this instance the individual concerned was visited by officers, the comments discussed, and no further action was taken."
British GLBT equality advocate organization Stonewall also saw the visit from police as a ’ disproportionate" level of response by local authorities. Said Stonewall executive director Ben Summerskill, "Clearly her views are pretty offensive but nevertheless this [response] is disproportionate."
In the United States and elsewhere, similar arguments are made that religious liberties and full legal equality for GLBT citizens are bound to clash. Religious individuals who believe that scripture condemns homosexuality chafe that anti-discrimination protections might mean that they are breaking the law when they speak out against gays. Such possible conflicts between faith and law are seen by some people of faith as further reason to deny GLBT individuals and families full equality before the law.
In Ireland, anti-gay activists appealed to the government for specific legal exclusions that would protect individuals, churches, and businesses from legal consequences should they object on religious grounds to providing services to same-sex families.
An Oct. 25 article in the Irish newspaper the Independent reported that an organization that seeks to bring greater religious influence into cvic affairs, the Iona Institute, warned members of the Irish government that legislation to introduce civil partnerships similar to that offered by England to gay and lesbian families could leave anti-gay Christians "on the wrong side of the law" unless religiously-based refusals of service to gays and lesbians were written into the law.
Said Iona Institute director David Quinn, "Wedding photographers could be sued, printers of wedding invitations could be sued, Church halls could be sued.... A conscientiously objecting civil registrar could be fined and/or face up to six months in prison. Successful law suits have been taken against believers in traditional marriage in other jurisdictions.... The State must decide whether it wants to leave supporters of traditional marriage vulnerable to similar law suits in Ireland or to offer them legal protection."
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.