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Church coalition joins state in defending anti-buggery laws

Church coalition joins state in defending anti-buggery laws
Lawyer Mandela Peters and Lawyer Meisha Cruickshan

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by Bria King

Ten local churches have filed a notice of application to join the state in defending the challenge made to the buggery and gross indecency laws of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). 

The churches that have filed to be included in the proceedings are also a part of a larger body known as the Christian Coalition which is made up of over 100 individual churches across various denominations. 

And Mandela Peters, a lawyer and representative of the Christian Coalition told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday that the application “was filed on 21st October, 2019 and it’s an application by 10 churches and we’re applying to be joined in the proceedings so that we will be able to contribute and submit evidence and arguments in relation to the trial of the issues”. 

The challenge to these anti-gay laws were made by Vincentians Sean MacLeish, 53, and Javin Kevin Vinc Johnson, 22, two gay men who live in the United States, and the United Kingdom, respectively.

The men assert that their dignity and autonomy are stripped by the buggery and gross indecency laws. 

But Peters said based on issues surrounding morality and health, the laws should not be repealed. 

The lawyer said that people who are not familiar with the case believe that supporting the retainment of the buggery and gross indecency laws suggests that “you don’t want to give people human rights or you’re against homosexuals”. 

“We want to be clear that as it relates to the litigation itself, there is no law in St Vincent that says that you cannot be a homosexual, but the laws in St Vincent that may be linked to homosexuality are the buggery laws, but it doesn’t speak to persons, it speaks to behaviour or conduct or sexual activities or sexual practices, which the law says that these practices are forbidden by the law,” she said. 

Peters also said that the Church is firm in its stance and while it does not support homosexuality, the case itself which deals with buggery, also refers to anal penetration between two males, a male and female and a male and animal. 

She added that the law was aspirational, so that even though people still engage in homosexual behaviour, the buggery and gross indecency laws outline “what it wants to see in the society”. 

“… It’s saying that this is behaviour which as a state, we are opposed to or we would wish to discourage our citizens from participating in because of a moral issue and because of the health issue involved, so basically once the laws are there on the law books, it sends a signal, it sends a message that this is behaviour that we don’t condone, we don’t agree with and would want to deter…,” Peters said. 

Meisha Cruickshank, the legal practitioner who will represent the 10 churches in the court matter, also stressed that the laws being challenged do not specifically target individuals who are homosexuals. 

She added that the laws focus on the conduct and behaviour of individuals. 

The lawyer said that every state has public health laws and they believe that the buggery and gross indecency laws function as public health laws. 

“One of our positions is that one of the very reasons that the buggery laws were introduced in the first place is that because they serve a public health purpose; moral as well,” she said. “But they are also protecting citizens of the country, St Vincent and the Grenadines from dangerous conduct. So there is no way for us to advocate for the removal of those good public health laws and what do you replace those with?”

Both lawyers outlined several health risks involved with behaviour linked to anal penetration, which include damage to the anal sphincter muscles, great exposure to faecal matter, increased risk of anal cancer and increased risk of contracting a number of dangerous STDs including HIV AIDS, anal sores, warts and incontinence of faeces, haemorrhoids. 

Like Peters, Cruickshank asserted that because people will continue to practice the behaviours is no reason why the laws should be removed.

She said that the state sees the value in having those laws on the books and if they serve a good purpose, then they should not be removed. 

The challenge to the anti-gay laws had its debut court hearing on September 18. And the pretrial review is set for next Wednesday, November 13. 

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