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September 26, 2007

Speech cancelled amid questions of 'hate speech' versus 'free speech'

A speech by a "parental rights" activist in Gloucester has been canceled after a gay marriage advocacy group threatened to protest what it deemed "hate speech."

Cape Ann Marriage and Family, which characterizes itself as "pro-family" and has been active in advocating for a popular vote on gay marriage, had planned a meeting at a Main Street pizza parlor featuring a lecture by David Parker of Lexington.

Parker is suing the state for the right to be notified when issues of sexuality, including gay marriage, are discussed in his young son's school. The case was initially dismissed but is on appeal.

Parker first raised the issue in 2005, when his 5-year-old son came home with a children's book promoting diversity that included illustrations of families headed by same-sex couples. He was later arrested for trespassing after refusing to leave his son's school after a meeting with school officials.

Parker's scheduled appearance Saturday at Valentino's caught the attention of the Manchester-based group Know Thy Neighbor, which has published the names and addresses of people who signed a petition opposing gay marriage. The group accused Cape Ann Marriage and Family of promoting "hate speech."

"How I interpret (Parker's position) is that the mere existence of gay people, they find harmful to children," said Tom Lang, cofounder of Know Thy Neighbor and a Manchester resident.

On Monday, Lang said that he was in contact with Armando Marnoto, co-owner of Valentino's, and had told him that if the meeting went ahead, Know Thy Neighbor might stage a protest.

Parker and Jonathan Ring, chairman of Cape Ann Marriage and Families and organizer of the event, said that they were disappointed by the cancellation, which they blamed on pressure put on Marnoto by Know Thy Neighbor.

"This is a very common ploy of the pro-homosexual movement to stifle free speech," said Parker. "When they find out that there is going to be some kind of public event where they do not approve of the speech, they label it as hate speech before they've heard it and they threaten a protest."

Parker called Know Thy Neighbor's tactics "intimidation and harassment" and a violation of his free speech rights. He said he planned to pursue a complaint of a civil rights violation with the district attorney.

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