A newlywed couple have being bombarded with internet hate mail after posing on the steps of 10 Downing Street to hand in a 550,000-signature petition against gay marriage.
Rhys and Esther Curnow, from Newcastle, received scores of messages after opponents of their stance on same-sex marriage including a Labour councillor circulated their Facebook details online.
They included messages saying the couple, who are committed Christians, should “rot in hell” and wishing they would become infertile or die of cancer.
Several included explicit references to sexual acts while others suggested they should be subjected to “compulsory sterilisation”.
The couple, who married in March, became the public face of the Coalition For Marriage campaign, backed by Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, earlier this month when they handed in the group’s petition to David Cameron.
Mr Curnow, a charity researcher originally from Wales, and his wife, a primary schoolteacher from the West Midlands, dressed in wedding clothes and posed on the steps of Number 10 with a gift wrapped package containing signatures.
Mrs Curnow was prevented from bringing a bunch of flowers into Downing Street on security grounds.
When the website PinkNews carried a brief report and video of the Downing Street photo opportunity, attention in the comments section turned to the couple themselves.
One reader posted a message asking: “I wonder if we can get their addresses so we can send them a different type of petition …”
A link to Mr Curnow’s Facebook page was quickly posted below. Meanwhile links to Mr Curnow’s Facebook page were being circulated on Twitter including by Kevin Peel, a Manchester City Councillor.
Among messages to Mr Curnow from other users was one which read: “I know that you and your ---- should be getting quite a few of these messages, many people on my Facebook account are posting a link to here.
“I say BRING ON THE HATE! I really hope that both you morons get all the hate and threats in the world.
“You deserve nothing but sadness.”
One sent to Mrs Curnow added: “I really hope you and your husband turn out infertile and die of cancer.
“That would be something to celebrate.”
A separate Facebook group was set up describing them as “homophobic”.
After receiving more than 100 direct messages the couple changed their security settings to block incoming messages other than from friends.
They have reported the matter to Northumbria Police but yesterday officers claimed that there was no evidence of a crime being committed as the messages did not contain direct threats.
“We are really shocked and saddened at what’s happened,” said Mr Curnow.
“I’ve protected my wife Esther from the worst of it, but she’s is understandably distressed, as any young wife would be.
“We’re at a loss to understand how people could be so vicious. All we did was hand in a petition at Downing Street. Surely there’s room for people to disagree without resorting this kind of hatred and abuse.
“By all means let’s have a debate – especially as the public haven’t had the chance to vote on this issue.
“But the bullies are trying to shut down the debate. We’re shaken and upset, but we won’t let them get us down.”
The abuse comes after the Archbishop of York received racist hate mail after he publicly voiced opposition to gay marriage and David Burrowes, the Tory MP, received a death threat.
Cllr Peel, who represents Manchester’s City Centre ward and is the council’s lead member of gay men’s issues, said he could not condone the “horrible” messages others had sent.
But he added: “If you are the public face of a campaign to deny the right of marriage to other people you should be prepared to hear the opposite view from people who don’t agree with you.
“Being in the press, standing outside Downing Street in wedding garb and handing in a petition saying people like me should not be allowed to marry – I don’t see why it is not OK for people, sensible people, to say ‘why do you have that view?’.”