A poem by the respected poet and translator James Kirkup, entitled "The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name", was published in the British magazine Gay News, issue 96, on 3/16 June 1976, with an illustration by Tony Reeves. It describes a centurion's homosexual fantasies about the crucified Jesus Christ.

A private prosecution was launched by Mary Whitehouse in December 1976. The editor and publisher of Gay News were tried at the Central Criminal Court in London on a charge of blasphemous libel and found guilty by a majority verdict in July 1977. Denis Lemon was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment, suspended for eighteen months, and he and Gay News Limited were fined a total of £1500 plus the prosecution costs. The convictions were upheld in a majority judgement by the Court of Criminal Appeal in March 1978, though the prison sentence was quashed, and in a majority judgement by the House of Lords in February 1979. The European Commission of Human Rights declared the case inadmissible by the European Court of Human Rights in May 1982.

The result was that it was reprinted in leaflet form, spread across the Internet, and so on. A copy of the poem is freely available from

Free Speech Movement
84B Whitechapel High Street
E1 7QX
United Kingdom

It must be stressed that the crime was one of blasphemous libel, that is it is both blasphemy and libel. To constitute libel it must be published. This includes the posting of the text on any website, bulletin board, or other such electronic place. It is a criminal offence under the law of England and Wales to disseminate it in any such way. The police have raided premises and seized computers on suspicion of holding copies of the poem in the form of a website.

The Free Speech Movement are allowed to send out individual copies on request because private transmission of one copy to one person is not publication, therefore not libellous. That I suppose is the theory, though I am not a lawyer, and the laws pertaining to libel may vary from one jurisdiction to another.

In their copy that they send out, they include a disclaimer, and I quote from my copy:

The present edition is published neither to express approval of its form or content, nor to cause deliberate offence to anyone, but to vindicate the general principle of free speech when there is no genuine threat of private damage or public disorder, and to protest against the survival of the particular law of blasphemy and also to make sure that the poem remains available for anyone who wishes to read it.

It's worth noting that under English law it's impossible to libel a dead person. You simply cannot bring a case for libel if the person alleged to have been libelled is now dead, because the dead have no reputation.

What does this say about the verdict of blasphemous libel in the case of James Kirkup's poem? Well, even if you accept that it's libel to say that someone has had gay sex when it hasn't been proven that they have, it can only matter if Jesus, or the centurion, are still alive.

Well, they lived 2000 years ago. They're not alive in the usual way of things. But it is the belief of Christianity that Jesus was resurrected to eternal life. So, if you accept a Christian viewpoint, he's still alive.

Which brings me to the other bit of the charge against Denis Lemon and Gay News, that of blasphemy. The only church protected under English blasphemy law is the Church of England. So the poem has to have blasphemed against that church in particular. I'm not aware that they specifically say that Jesus wasn't gay, but, what the hell, they were upset, and they're the established church.

In making that conviction for blasphemous libel, the court upheld the discriminatory blasphemy laws, and accepted as plain fact the Christian doctrine on the resurrection.

The poem was the subject of the first conviction for blasphemous libel for 50 years, in 1977. There haven't been any convictions since. Draw your own conclusions.

The poem is also available online:

In more recent years, James Kirkup's poem has been the catalyst for a pair of controversies in England:

In 1996, police began an 18 month investigation of the Gay and Lesbian Christian Movement after complaints from the Church of England. The GLCM had a website that merely linked to the poem on a site outside the country. Police alleged that the hyperlink facilitated access to the banned poem, but never pressed charges despite the lengthy investigation.

In December 2001, TV presenter Joan Bakewell (who, in the 60s, had smuggled a copy of Lady Chatterly's Lover through customs in her underwear) ran into criticism and legal trouble when she read a portion of the poem on the BBC program Taboo.

Once again, something that would have languished in obscurity, perhaps deservedly so, is given attention because some people get their undergarments in a twist over a little shock value blasphemy.

Note to Scotland Yard: I am a US citizen and this web site is hosted on servers within the United States. Bugger off!

As they took him from the cross.
I, the centurion, took him in my arms-
the tough lean body
of a man no longer young,
beardless, breathless,
but well hung.

He was still warm.
While they prepared the tomb
I kept guard over him.
His mother and the Magdalen
had gone to fetch clean linen
to shroud his nakedness.

I was alone with him.
For the last time
I kissed his mouth. My tongue
found his, bitter with death.
I licked his wound-
the blood was harsh
For the last time
I laid my lips around the tip
of that great cock, the instrument
of our salvation, our eternal joy.
The shaft, still throbbed, anointed
with death's final ejaculation

I knew he'd had it off with other men-
with Herod's guards, with Pontius Pilate,
With John the Baptist, with Paul of Tarsus
with foxy Judas, a great kisser, with
the rest of the Twelve, together and apart.
He loved all men, body, soul and spirit. - even me.

So now I took off my uniform, and, naked,
lay together with him in his desolation,
caressing every shadow of his cooling flesh,
hugging him and trying to warm him back to life.
Slowly the fire in his thighs went out,
while I grew hotter with unearthly love.
It was the only way I knew to speak our love's proud name,
to tell him of my long devotion, my desire, my dread-
something we had never talked about. My spear, wet with blood,
his dear, broken body all open wounds,
and in each wound his side, his back,
his mouth - I came and came and came

as if each coming was my last.
And then the miracle possessed us.
I felt him enter into me, and fiercely spend
his spirit's final seed within my hole, my soul,
pulse upon pulse, unto the ends of the earth-
he crucified me with him into kingdom come.

-This is the passionate and blissful crucifixion
same-sex lovers suffer, patiently and gladly.
They inflict these loving injuries of joy and grace
one upon the other, till they dies of lust and pain
within the horny paradise of one another's limbs,
with one voice cry to heaven in a last divine release.

Then lie long together, peacefully entwined, with hope
of resurrection, as we did, on that green hill far away.
But before we rose again, they came and took him from me.
They knew no what we had done, but felt
no shame or anger. Rather they were glad for us,
and blessed us, as would he, who loved all men.

And after three long, lonely days, like years,
in which I roamed the gardens of my grief
seeking for him, my one friend who had gone from me,
he rose from sleep, at dawn, and showed himself to me before
all others. And took me to him with
the love that now forever dares to speak its name.

James Kirkup's poem was a reference to the famous poem by Lord Alfred Douglas (1870-1945), "Two Loves", which was itself a reference to the Shakespeare sonnet #144, also named "Two Loves"

Two Loves (by Lord Alfred Douglas)
(Reprinted from The Chameleon, December 1894. See highlighted lines.)

I dreamed I stood upon a little hill,
And at my feet there lay a ground, that seemed
Like a waste garden, flowering at its will
With buds and blossoms. There were pools that dreamed
Black and unruffled; there were white lilies
A few, and crocuses, and violets
Purple or pale, snake-like fritillaries
Scarce seen for the rank grass, and through green nets
Blue eyes of shy peryenche winked in the sun.
And there were curious flowers, before unknown,
Flowers that were stained with moonlight, or with shades
Of Nature's willful moods; and here a one
That had drunk in the transitory tone
Of one brief moment in a sunset; blades
Of grass that in an hundred springs had been
Slowly but exquisitely nurtured by the stars,
And watered with the scented dew long cupped
In lilies, that for rays of sun had seen
Only God's glory, for never a sunrise mars
The luminous air of Heaven. Beyond, abrupt,
A grey stone wall. o'ergrown with velvet moss
Uprose; and gazing I stood long, all mazed
To see a place so strange, so sweet, so fair.
And as I stood and marvelled, lo! across
The garden came a youth; one hand he raised
To shield him from the sun, his wind-tossed hair
Was twined with flowers, and in his hand he bore
A purple bunch of bursting grapes, his eyes
Were clear as crystal, naked all was he,
White as the snow on pathless mountains frore,
Red were his lips as red wine-spilith that dyes
A marble floor, his brow chalcedony.
And he came near me, with his lips uncurled
And kind, and caught my hand and kissed my mouth,
And gave me grapes to eat, and said, 'Sweet friend,
Come I will show thee shadows of the world
And images of life. See from the South
Comes the pale pageant that hath never an end.'
And lo! within the garden of my dream
I saw two walking on a shining plain
Of golden light. The one did joyous seem
And fair and blooming, and a sweet refrain
Came from his lips; he sang of pretty maids
And joyous love of comely girl and boy,
His eyes were bright, and 'mid the dancing blades
Of golden grass his feet did trip for joy;
And in his hand he held an ivory lute
With strings of gold that were as maidens' hair,
And sang with voice as tuneful as a flute,
And round his neck three chains of roses were.
But he that was his comrade walked aside;
He was full sad and sweet, and his large eyes
Were strange with wondrous brightness, staring wide
With gazing; and he sighed with many sighs
That moved me, and his cheeks were wan and white
Like pallid lilies, and his lips were red
Like poppies, and his hands he clenched tight,
And yet again unclenched, and his head
Was wreathed with moon-flowers pale as lips of death.
A purple robe he wore, o'erwrought in gold
With the device of a great snake, whose breath
Was fiery flame: which when I did behold
I fell a-weeping, and I cried, 'Sweet youth,
Tell me why, sad and sighing, thou dost rove
These pleasent realms? I pray thee speak me sooth
What is thy name?' He said, 'My name is Love.'
Then straight the first did turn himself to me
And cried, 'He lieth, for his name is Shame,
But I am Love, and I was wont to be
Alone in this fair garden, till he came
Unasked by night; I am true Love, I fill
The hearts of boy and girl with mutual flame.'
Then sighing, said the other, 'Have thy will,
I am the love that dare not speak its name.'

For a short biography of Lord Alfred Douglas, click his name.

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