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Monday, November 30, 1998 Published at 16:18 GMT


Tatchell compares Carey to apartheid church leaders

Canterbury cathedral, the scene of OutRage!'s public demonstration

Emily Buchanan: Peter Tatchell is being charged under eccleastic law which has roots in the 16th Century
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has compared the Archbishop of Canterbury to the leaders of the whites-only churches which backed apartheid in South Africa.

Mr Tatchell is on trial at Canterbury Magistrates Court charged, under the 1860 Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act, with indecent behaviour in a church.

[ image: OutRage! is the only gay campaign group which uses direct confrontation as a tactic]
OutRage! is the only gay campaign group which uses direct confrontation as a tactic
It follows an incident in Canterbury Cathedral on Easter Sunday when Mr Tatchell and six other members of OutRage! invaded Dr George Carey's pulpit and accused him of discriminating against homosexuals.

Stipendiary magistrate Michael Kelly was told that Mr Tatchell, 46, of Lambeth, south London, criticised Dr Carey's opposition to lowering the homosexual age of consent and the church's ban on the ordination of practising gay clergy.

Religious affairs correspondent Alex Kirby reports on the day's proceedings
Under cross examination Mr Tatchell compared his movement to the Suffragettes and the US civil rights protesters of the 1960s.

Religious affairs correspondent Alex Kirby said: "Mr Tatchell said he considered Dr Carey no different from senior members of the white church which supported apartheid.

"He said human rights was more important than the rituals of the Church."

Mr Tatchell said: "The shame is not our defence of human rights but the Archbishop's defence of discrimination."

'Unseemly conduct'

Earlier Robert Montague, prosecuting, said the campaigners' conduct on 12 April was "unseemly and inappropriate" in a place of worship but he said Dr Carey stood aside and there was no physical violence.

Mr Montague said the indecency mentioned in the charge had no sexual connotation.

Peter Tatchell calls for the repeal of the act outside the court
The court was told there was a precedent for the prosecution - in 1966 anti-Vietnam war protesters interrupted a church service in Brighton and accused then Prime Minister Harold Wilson of being a hypocrite. The ringleader was jailed for two months.

'Brief and peaceful protest'

Mr Tatchell's lawyers will argue the 1860 act gives the church a privileged form of protection against protest.

The National Secular Society (NSS) has launched an appeal deploring Mr Tatchell's prosecution and also wants the act to be repealed.

The NSS says the law "gives the church unique and sweeping powers to suppress dissent".

The Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway, wants the act repealed.

'Acting out of anger and pain'

He said: "Peter is a man that I admire. I don't always agree with his tactics but I understand where the anger and the pain that provokes his tactics comes from.

The Bishop of Edinburgh: Admires Peter Tatchell
"I just wish that the church could reach out and make friends with him and try to understand the pain that he feels.

"If he were sentenced and sent to prison ... I don't think it would go down very much to the forgiving credit of the church."

OutRage! says prominent signatories of the NSS appeal include Sir Ludovic Kennedy, Claire Rayner, Alan Bennett, Michael Foot and Vanessa Redgrave.

Labour MP Tony Benn and Dr Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, are due to appear on Tuesday as character witnesses for Mr Tatchell.

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