Peter Tatchell: Demotion for gay marriage comment 'excessive'
A leading gay rights campaigner has backed a Christian housing worker demoted for posting comments on Facebook about gay marriage.
Adrian Smith, 54, from Bolton, is taking legal action against Trafford Housing Trust (THT) after being removed from his managerial post.
Political campaigner Peter Tatchell described THT's response as "excessive and disproportionate".
The Trust declined to comment but said it would defend its decision.
Disciplinary action was launched against Mr Smith when he commented "an equality too far" next to a BBC News Online story with the headline, "Gay church 'marriage' set to get the go-ahead".
He added: "If the state wants to offer civil marriages to the same sex then that is up to the state; but the state shouldn't impose its rules on places of faith and conscience."
Human rights organisation the Peter Tatchell Foundation issued a statement saying it was "not a particularly homophobic viewpoint".
Mr Tatchell, a prominent campaigner on gay and lesbian issues, said: "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.
"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."
Instead of taking disciplinary action, the Trust should have simply warned Mr Smith about making remarks in forums where he is identified as their employee, added Mr Tatchell.
"I urge Trafford Housing Trust to revoke his demotion and salary cut," he said.
The Trust previously said its Code of Conduct was updated in 2010 to establish the proper use of social networking sites such as Facebook.
Under the code, staff are expected to ensure their opinions cannot be mistaken as being the opinions of the Trust.
Mr Smith is being supported in his legal action by The Christian Institute, a national charity that defends the religious liberty of Christians.
He is claiming interference with his rights to free speech and religious liberty, and breach of contract.