The government has defeated an amendment in the House of Commons that would have created a defence of “free speech” in a bill that is designed to criminalise incitement of hatred in relation to sexual orientation. Campaigners including the Blackadder star Rowan Atkinson and the gay actor Christopher Biggins had argued that the clause relating to hatred in the Coroners and Justice Bill could limit freedom of expression and could lead to prosecutions over gay “jokes”. The Coroners and Justice Bill is being used to remove an amendment to legislation passed last year that allowed the “discussion or criticism” of sexual practices last year. The amendment that was defeated today by 154 votes, would have effectively re-instated the defence of free speech.
Gay actor Christopher Biggens laments: “Showbiz, camp theatrics and dazzling wit helped to pave the way for gay rights. They should be cherished, not suppressed. It is bitterly ironic that, in the name of tolerance, the government should be marching towards such a culture of intolerance.” The law that criminalizes speech intended to incite “sexual orientation hatred” was passed last year.