Gay Debate Heads Up
Nation, October 19, 2003
P.O. Box 1203, Bridgetown, St. Michael, Barbados, W.I.
Tel: 246-430-5400 Fax:
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
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
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
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: http://www.barbados.org/constitution.htm
); do you really need another Constitutional court ruling to confirm that the
absolute prohibition of consensual homosexual behaviour is a flagrant breach
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.