Comment: Would the Pope face arrest for homophobia?

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.’s Marc Shoffman asks if the Pope would be welcome in Britain after his comments on gay marriage.

It’s been a busy month for gay rights activists. After a brief respite from the Muslim Council of Britain’s, Sir Iqbal Sacranie’s homophobic comments, now the Pope Benedict XVI has used a public platform to denounce homosexuality.

Whilst Sir Iqbal awaits the outcome of a possible investigation under the Public Order Act for labelling homosexuality as immoral and unhealthy, would fellow senior religious figure, the pontiff, escape punishment if his outburst had been addressed at a British audience?

Some may point out that the head of the MCB’s comments were broadcast to the whole of Britain, but the Pope was just addressing a conference of Bishops in Rome. However, his speech has already reached British shores. In Northern Ireland, councillors have welcomed his views and are considering using them as grounds to oppose working on civil partnerships.

That is where the problem lies. An outburst by a religious symbol, whether to two or two thousand people, whether in Rome or Rickmansworth, is always going to have international reverberations. In Britain we have laws in place to ensure tolerance and respect to all communities and hopefully had the Pope been in Britain, he would have been subject to the same laws.

It would obviously be hard to censor him should he ever visit Britain, as it would be to censor any other religious leader on the basis of freedom of speech. But what is the difference between Muslim cleric, Abu Hamza, who is currently standing trial for preaching his “beliefs,” whilst Pope Benedict XVI spouts homophobic views, on the same basis?

What exactly is the Pope worried about? He says, “It’s a serious error to obscure the value and function of the legitimate family founded on matrimony, attributing to other forms of unions improper legal recognition, for which there really is no social need.”

How many families have broken down since civil partnerships were allowed? I certainly haven’t felt the need to run and hide shouting: “the gays are coming!”

Homosexuality has been around for as long as heterosexuality, yet people have got married throughout the centuries. If the Pope wants to find a reason for society’s breakdown, maybe he should take a closer look at the intolerance, incompetence and bigotry amongst world leaders in politics and religion.

The Pope faces a risk of his only invitation to Britain coming from the more radical factions of our society. Whilst preaching the importance of bringing people back to Christianity, he is also alienating key members of Roman Catholic congregations in the UK with his comments.

The obvious argument is that we can never expect religion to accept homosexuality, but why does that make it ok for them to spread and encourage homophobic beliefs. All this does is deliver justification for those in the lower echelons of society who want to bash, beat and blow gays up, and it’s ok because the MCB, and the Vatican say homosexuality is immoral and dangerous for society. Punishment should start at the top, or what is the point of struggling for equality, tolerance and fairness.

Someone in the Pope’s position should have the tact and common sense to recognise different communities and realise what he says may put many Roman Catholic’s in severe danger. I for one won’t be at the airport to welcome him into Britain.

Marc Shoffman is a straight journalist with an openly gay mother.