Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has come to the defence of a Christian housing manager who was demoted over remarks be made on Facebook opposing same-sex marriages.
This is the fourth time that Tatchell has come to the defence of Christians who have become embroiled in controversy over their stance on LGBT issues.
Last year he spoke in defence of Dale McAlpine a street preacher who he considered "clearly homophobic". He also opposed the prosecutions of Harry Hammond and Shawn Holes.
In the latest case, Adrian Smith, a Christian, was found guilty of gross misconduct by his publicly funded housing association for saying that allowing gay weddings in churches was "an equality too far".
He posted the comment on his Facebook page.
After a disciplinary hearing, he was downgraded from his £35,000-a-year managerial job to a much less senior £21,000 post.
His employers, Trafford Housing Trust said that he had breached their Code of Conduct for Employees which set out what use employees can make of social networking sites such as Facebook.
They said that the Facebook page identified him as a manager at the and a full disciplinary investigation in which he had Trade Union representation, found him to be in breach of the company's code of conduct and other policies.
The Trust made no comment about any personal beliefs that he holds.
Mr Smith has commenced legal proceedings against the Trust.
But campaigner Peter Tatchell has called for the manager to be reinstated in his old job and, at worst, given a reprimand.
"Trafford Housing Trust was wrong to demote and cut the salary of Christian housing manager Adrian Smith over remarks he made on his personal facebook page, opposing churches being forced to conduct same-sex marriages,” said Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
“The Trust was acting with good intentions in a bid to ensure equal opportunities, non-discrimination and inclusive service provision. Although its commitment to equality for lesbian and gay people is commendable, its response to Mr Smith’s remarks is excessive and disproportionate.
Mr Smith reportedly wrote on his personal Facebook page:
“an equality too far.....the bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women if the state wants to offer civil marriage to same sex then that is up to the state; but they shouldn’t impose its rules on places of faith and conscience.”
“This is not a particularly homophobic viewpoint" said Tatchell. "Adrian Smith’s opposition to churches being compelled to hold gay marriages is shared by much of the population, including many equality and human rights organisations,” added Peter Tatchell.
“I am opposed to churches being forced by law to conduct same-sex marriages. I do, however, support an end to the legal ban on faith organisations holding gay weddings where they wish to do so. The Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism want to perform same-sex marriages and they want the law changed to enable them to do this. I support their appeal for law reform.
"There is no evidence that he has treated any of his gay housing clients adversely.
"In a democratic society, he has a right to express his point of view, even if it is misguided and wrong. Freedom of speech should only be limited or penalised in extreme circumstances, such as when a person incites violence against others. Mr Smith's words did not cross this threshold.
"It would have been sufficient for Trafford Housing Trust to have warned him about making discriminatory remarks in forums where he is identified as their employee. I hope they will now do this.
“I urge Trafford Housing Trust to revoke his demotion and salary cut," said Mr Tatchell.
The Christian arts festival Greenbelt faced a barrage of criticism from conservative Christian groups when it invited Peter Tatchell to speak there in 2010.