THE personal columns of The Times used to be given over to the likes of "Brigadier and Mrs Cumblebum-Righto are pleased to announce the engagement of their daughter Hermione Bethesda to the Hon Martindale Hesketh-Collywobble".

Last week The Times printed an announcement of the forthcoming ceremony for the legitimating of a homosexual partnership. So the love that once dare not speak its name now appears unblushing in the English Establishment's favourite daily newspaper. Meanwhile at meetings in Northern Ireland, the worldwide Anglican Church is tearing itself apart over whether homosexuals should be ordained to the priesthood.

The issue is by no means clear and it's worth spending a few minutes reminding ourselves of how it came about. In 1967 an Act of Parliament was passed to decriminalise homosexuality. This Act was specific. It said that homosexual acts "between consenting adults in private" should no longer be a criminal offence. "Between" meant two people only. "Adults" meant over 21. "Private" meant behind locked doors.

I supported the Act at the time for it seemed to me - and to a great many other naturally conservative people as well as to "progressives" - that its benefits would be to remove the threat of blackmail which then hung over homosexuals. It also clearly referred to responsible relationships between people who may have had a different sexual inclination but who shared all decent folk's commitment to public morality.

In other words, the decriminalisation of homosexuality definitely did not mean the obscene atrocity of Gay Pride marches and the gross advertisement of promiscuity. It was never envisaged that this humane Act would lead to government declarations and policies which say that homosexual "partners" have the same status as the conventional family. It never intended that schoolchildren should be taught that homosexual relationships are on a par with heterosexual normality and that in fact to use the word "normal" when referring to sexual preference is a major sexist offence. It did not mean that predatory homosexuals should be licensed to search for recruits in schools.

Back in the 1960s no-one envisaged that the Homosexual Reform Act would lead to the "outing" of prominent people - in fact a more vicious form of the very blackmail which homosexuals feared, but now practised by homosexuals themselves. No-one thought reform would lead to the invasion of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Easter pulpit by the gay rights activist Peter Tatchell; or that threats would be issued by that odious man against David Hope, when he was Archbishop of York.

I still believe in the decriminalisation of homosexuality. But this new freedom should not have been allowed to deteriorate into the hideous and depraved parades of "Gay Pride". It should not amount to an assertion that homosexual promiscuity is morally equivalent to Christian marriage - and that anyone who says otherwise is in danger of prosecution under human rights legislation that is itself a travesty of justice. Homosexual acts between consenting adults in private are morally acceptable. But the wholesale advertisement of licentiousness and depravity under the name of "the gay lifestyle" is a sickness in public life.

*Peter Mullen is Rector of St Michael's, Cornhill, in the City of London, and Chaplain to the Stock Exchange.