Laws to protect gays in the United Kingdom just got tougher. Now, if anyone is caught making a comment against gays, he or she could land themselves in prison for seven years.
A new law announced on Monday has invited the ire of Christian groups, who condemned it as 'a law to allow Christians to be locked up for what they believe'.
But the gay pressure group Stonewall said those who disapprove of homosexuals would have nothing to fear from the law if they express their views in a manner that is 'temperate' and 'polite'.
Justice Secretary Jack Straw told MPs the gay harassment law will be included as an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill currently going before Parliament, though ministers have yet to decide the wording.
'It is a measure of how far we have come as a society in the last ten years that we are now appalled by hatred and invective directed at people on the basis of their sexuality. It is time for the law to recognise this,' the Daily Mail quoted Straw, as saying.
He also raised the prospect of extending the law to cover to 'transgendered' people and the disabled.
The new law aims to catch those who do not explicitly call for attacks or discrimination against homosexuals, as this is covered by existing incitement laws. Instead, police will be allowed to pursue those who create an 'atmosphere or climate' in which hatred or bullying can be fostered. Officials said it would not prohibit criticism of gay, lesbian and bisexual people or joke-telling.
The final decision over who has 'crossed the line' will rest with the police.