GAY RIGHTS campaigner Peter Tatchell was yesterday charged with "riotous or violent" behaviour after dramatically disrupting the Archbishop of Canterbury's Easter sermon.
Mr Tatchell, 46, said that he had been bailed to appear at Canterbury and St Augustines magistrates' court next month. He said he had been charged with an offence contrary to section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act of 1860 with the offence of "riotous or violent" behaviour in a church.
Supported by half a dozen members of the OutRage! gay campaign group with placards, Mr Tatchell climbed into the pulpit where Dr George Carey had just began his address. He shouted: "Dr Carey supports discrimination against lesbian and gay people. He opposes lesbian and gay human rights. This is not Christian teaching."
To the amazement of the Canterbury cathedral congregation of 2,000 people, Mr Tatchell was silenced only when a senior police officer and stewards pulled him down and marched him from the building.
Dr Carey then continued his sermon, saying simply: "This has happened before and it will doubtless happen again. Let's go back to the service."
Afterwards, the archbishop said he was saddened by the disruption, which he did not think helped the cause of gay rights. "The church has written a report for debate, entitled `Issues in Human Sexuality', in which homosexuality is discussed. The church welcomes discussion on this matter and is already involved with serious-minded people in this debate." He said he had not been bothered by the interruption, but he was sorry it had upset those who had gone to the cathedral to worship.
Mr Tatchell has become one of the most out-spoken campaigners for gay rights since he stood for Labour in Bermondsey in a 1983 by-election. He lost a previously safe seat after a vicious campaign which speculated on his sexuality. He came out as homosexual two months later. Last year, he invaded the grounds of Lambeth Palace to protest against Dr Carey's stance, but left after the archbishop said his manner was offensive.
John Hunt, one of the other OutRage! protesters at the cathedral, said last night that the campaigners believed Dr Carey's opposition to gay civil rights was "a perversion of Christ's gospel of love and compassion".
Pope's Easter message, page 12
Last chance for church, page 3
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