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Should we decriminalize certain aspects of homosexuality in SVG?

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Tue Sep 17, 2013

by Oscar Ramjeet

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves is busy dealing with reparations from the United Kingdom and legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, and last week, he was posed with another issue – if certain aspects of homosexuality should be decriminalized.{{more}}

Dr Gonsalves, as a shrewd politician, side stepped the question about his view and said that “it is not for me to encourage or not to encourage…. that’s a discussion for the society to have ….. this is not a matter which a politician should be pronouncing up front, given the nature of this social issue.”

This is a hot topic and Pope Francis was asked what he thought of homosexual conduct against recently appointed delegation to reform the Vatican Bank and his response was “who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith …. I have yet to find anyone who has a business card that says he is gay. … The catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalized because of this orientation, but they must be integrated into society.”

To my mind, the Pontiff appears not be totally against the practice, because if he was, he would have made adverse comments.

It is not a criminal offence in the United Kingdom for two adult males to be engaged in a sexual relationship, once it is done privately, and this law has been handed down to all British dependent territories including the five in the Caribbean: Anguilla, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos, and Cayman Islands. However, such activity is unlawful in all Commonwealth countries, except the Bahamas, where it was decriminalized in 1991, and the penalty varies from country to country. In Antigua and Barbuda the penalty is as high as 15 years; in St Vincent and the Grenadines it is ten years.

Historically, buggery, as it was called, carried the death penalty in the United Kingdom and in 1861, the law was amended to life imprisonment. But in 1967, the British Government, after accepting the 1957 Wolfenden Report, changed the law and decriminalized homosexual activities between consenting adult males in private.

The “homosexual law” is being challenged in Belize by a homosexual group known as UNIBAM and a well-known gay Caleb Oronzco. With the assistance of overseas gay groups, they have retained high-priced lawyers, including Lord Peter Goldsmith, an English Queen’s Counsel to argue the case, which is being resisted by the government and church groups in the Central American state. Oronzco, in his testimony, said that the present law is violating his constitutional rights, since, as a homosexual, he is put at risk of becoming a criminal for expressing himself with another adult consenting male. After a lengthy and well publicized hearing, Guyanese born Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin has reserved his ruling. The entire Belize community is anxiously awaiting the Court’s decision, which is expected to be delivered next month.

In Guyana, Parliament 12 years ago passed the Sexual Orientation Bill which prohibits discrimination against gays and lesbians. However, it is not law since the then President, Bharat Jagdeo, buckled to pressure from Christian, Hindu and Muslim religious groups, and refused to sign the measure into law.

A large number of homosexuals are now coming out of the closet and announcing that they are gay, including TV superstars Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, not to mention the well-known gays like Sir Elton John and the late Liberace, the world famous pianist, and my favourite movie star Rock Hudson. Of course, because of the large number of gays and lesbians, several states in the US have changed their laws to allow “same sex” marriage.

A large number of Vincentians feel that the time is rife to remove such a measure from the Statute Books in St Vincent and the Grenadines. They might be right, since the British, where our laws originated, did so 46 long years ago. However, the opponents to the change would argue that it is immoral, and maybe disgusting, but fornication and adultery are also sins, but they are being overlooked in the Caribbean and of course the wider world.

Politicians might not want to be involved in discussion for a change because they are fearful that it might not go down too well with some of the electorate, including their supporters.

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