Last edited: January 25, 2005

Gay Debate Heads Up

The Nation, October 19, 2003
P.O. Box 1203, Bridgetown, St. Michael, Barbados, W.I.
Tel: 246-430-5400 Fax: 246-427-6968

Call-in programmes on local radio in recent days have demonstrated the depth of feeling of Barbadians in relation to any attempt to legalise or decriminalise homosexuality. Two weeks ago a Cabinet minister floated the idea, and enough has now been said to make it clear that such an initiative is fraught with serious social and political implications.

Sodomy or buggery between males is a crime for which perpetrators have been imprisoned.

However, the law did not contemplate that the State would spy on persons indulging in such behaviour within the privacy of their homes and over time there has been increasing tolerance for homosexuals in our society.

But the relevant legislation, like most of our laws, is rooted in certain values to which important biblical principles apply.

It is this connection to religious authority that compels a clearly increasing number of Barbadians to speak out or write to the Press condemning any attempt to liberalise the law on what they regard as both a sin, according to holy writ, and a crime.

Government must be aware that, regardless of the fact of homosexual practices throughout the centuries, legalisation strikes at a fundamental cultural difference between heterosexuals and gays, whether their preferences are based on religious belief or on purely secular precepts.

Three days ago, Anglicans from across the world concluded their deliberations at Lambeth, England. Part of their agenda was to consider the implications of the election of an openly gay Bishop, Gene Robinson in New Hampshire, United States; strong opposition by the vast majority of churches in Africa and the Caribbean.

Several primates at the two-day consultation said that if the United States Episcopalian Church proceeded to confirm Robinson it would create a schism within the 80-million Anglican communion.

It is interesting that whereas Britain’s judiciary and parliament have been urging Commonwealth countries, especially its dependent territories, to end capital punishment, they have at the same time pressed for liberal laws affecting homosexuals and gays.

In her zeal to keep this island in step with what seems a growing trend, the Attorney-General may have added fuel to fire. It flickered first when Robinson was selected for the Bishopric of New Hampshire after divorcing his wife to live with a man.

More heat was generated when, in quick succession, a former president of the National Organisation of Women in Barbados called for decriminalisation of prostitution, and then a similar appeal came from the National HIV/AIDS Commission.

Anglicans are speaking out against both suggestions. Added to these are evangelical and Baptist denominations whose voices are now rising, predictably, to a crescendo of opposition.

Pope John Paul, spiritual head of the Roman Catholic Church, has also spoken against the ordination of Anglican gays, saying it would set back the ecumenical movement.

Politicians must remember that the Church has enormous influence in Barbados. Regardless of what happens in the Episcopalian arm of Anglicanism in the United States, whatever Anglicans do in Britain or Canada, African and Caribbean provinces remain very conservative organisations. Homosexuality strikes at the core of their beliefs. They regard its legalisation is contrary to what they hold dear.

The reality is that not everything done in the name of freedom to choose is culturally or morally acceptable. We live in an increasingly tolerant world, but we are not persuaded that Barbadians are yet ready for this change.

An unpublished response

October 19, 2003

Dear Editor,

I write as a former resident of your island to express my surprise and sorrow at today’s Editorial article, under the title : Gay Debate Heads Up,which concludes: “We live in an increasingly tolerant world, but we are not persuaded that Barbadians are yet ready for this change.” It occurs to me that you may have not informed your readers why the laws prohibiting all consensual homosexual acts in private (like those originally enacted in Barbados by the British Colonial Administration) were repealed in England & Wales in 1967, and later throughout the UK, Europe and North America.

That initial repeal was in response to the Report of the “Wolfenden Commission” on homosexuality and prostitution, which concluded after detailed study that the prohibition was doing more harm than good, eg because it provoked blackmail and could not be enforced without the use of entrapment and by granting immunity from prosecution to equally guilty participants. It was subsequently exended to Northern Ireland despite widespread objections there on ostensibly religious grounds in response to the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling in the “Dudgeon” case (1981), that the ban breached the right to privacy guaranteed by Art 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Since then, similar prohibitions elsewhere in Europe and in North America have been overturned as contrary to the applicable Constitutional guarantees of privacy and/or due process—most recently by the Supreme Court of the United States in Lawrence v. Texas (2003). The Constitution of Barbados explicitly guarantees these human rights (see: ); do you really need another Constitutional court ruling to confirm that the absolute prohibition of consensual homosexual behaviour is a flagrant breach of them?

From a more pragmatic perspective, Barbadians must recognise that this law unnecessarily handicaps the fight against AIDS because it strongly deters anybody who might have been infected though the prohibited activity from seeking treatment or revealing potential contacts. And as Barbados’ economy depends largely on tourists coming from North America and Europe who legitimately expect their privacy to be respected there no less than at home, do you really want to welcome them with a warning that that is not the case?

It is particularly tragic that the main opposition to decriminalisation is coming from the main Christian denominations (and their adherents), although their Saviour is not recorded as having expressed an opinion on this issue, because of course experience elsewhere demonstrates that decriminalisation as such has little if any impact on the attitudes of religious believers. Indeed, it should help people to distinguish between the things that are Ceasar’s, and those that are God’s. But I am confident that my former friends and neighbours will very soon be “ready for this change”, so long as they have first been fully informed of the facts.

Yours sincerely,


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