Last edited: February 08, 2005

Demurrer, Replication and Dejoinder

Barbados Advocate, February 7, 2005

By Jeff Cumberbatch

I find engrossing the ongoing discussions on the call-in programmes, in the newspapers and in the various so-called town-halls, whether on the potential impact of the CSME, on Barbados’ change to formal republicanism or on the persistently misnamed “decriminalisation of homosexuality” and prostitution. This is democracy in action. For all its vaunted educational achievement, Barbados has never appeared to be a hotbed of intellectualisation on issues affecting the public weal. Indeed, there seems rather to have been a clear reluctance to approach such matters other than on the basis of humour so as to offend as little as possible. However, the relative anonymity of talk-show radio and, doubtless, the fact that all three of the aforementioned initiatives challenge the orthodoxy, have emboldened faint hearts to add their two-cents-worth.

None of the above is to suggest that all of the reasoning employed in support of the various positions is easy to follow. Perhaps, sometimes, there isn’t any, but I am not so uncharitable as to even take this as a rebuttable presumption. In this space for the coming weeks, I shall attempt to treat some of the arguments advanced on these matters.

By their very nature, some of these are easier to deal with than others. For example, local fundamentalist Christians must be aghast at the absence of uncritical acceptance to their views which, in former times, would have been taken, if you will pardon the pun, as gospel. Still, the witnessed fallibility of those who claimed to speak for God, the sometimes manic excesses of theocracies and the overuse of the volume of the sacred law to justify behaviours which we now consider repugnant to justice—slavery, apartheid, gender discrimination, inter alia—have served to create a more cynical public, at least to the point of querying whether a mere reliance on an interpretation from a Biblical text suffices to insulate a proposition from debate.

Moreover, some assertions are so novel that their validity is immediately doubted. The Prime Minister claims that the need for a referendum to determine whether Barbados should become a republic died with the last Parliament and thus there is no present requirement for this device to determine the question. The general thrust of this argument is not unknown to constitutional practice—the Employment Rights Bill died a natural death with the dissolution of the last Parliament. The difficulty with the PM’s argument however, is that the promise of a referendum was not a Parliamentary act (to be distinguished from an Act of Parliament), so that the end of that Parliament could not guarantee its demise. What has in fact occurred is that a political promise has now been reneged on, though not without some proferred justification. This is to the effect that given the overwhelming support of the present administration by an electorate with full knowledge of its intentions in this context, a vote for the party was a vote for republicanism. The force of this defence is a matter for public consideration, but I am more hopeful than most that any such referendum would be affirmative of change.

To similar effect is the published (Barbados Advocate, January 30, 2005) statement attributed to the leader of the Opposition last week “I have no difficulty with [male] homosexuals, but I cannot see myself being part of a Parliament that supports decriminalising buggery”. I am not entirely clear as to what this means. That homosexuality is OK so long as its practitioners are not legally permitted to express that love in a way that disgusts me? This is nothing but discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation with a jigger of political correctness. Only real men and asexual homosexuals welcome here!

In the same edition, the writer with whom I share this page viewed any decriminalisation of buggery as “very undesirable and indeed detrimental”. It is not made clear whether these epithets refer to the would-be legislation itself or to the consequences thereof. But it is at least doubtful whether there has ever been any local prosecution for consensual buggery (also unlawful) in our history. Thus, any enactment would simply reflect the status quo.

In Barbados however, form is sometimes more critical than substance. So let’s assume that the would-be legislation did have its imagined effect of permitting all those who were eagerly awaiting it to bugger away in private with other consenting adult partners to their hearts’ content; how does this enure to the disbenefit of the nation? And whence a universal entitlement to pry into bedrooms so as to ensure that all citizens are participating only in sex acts considered proper by a tyrannical majority, in appropriate positions and for the ordained length of time?

A possible answer came from one letter writer who opined that homosexuality was evil and sinful because its universal practice could result in the destruction of the species. I suppose that an identical claim could be made in respect of poor dietary habits, celibacy, onanism, coitus interruptus and sterility, but I am probably out of my depth. Equally an epiphany was that writer’s proposition that the criminal law of Barbados is based on the Ten Commandments. I do not research criminal law and I may be on quicksand here, but when last I checked, it was perfectly legal to have any number of Gods one desired and to take the name of the Lord in vain; and it was not an offence to commit adultery, to forget to keep the Sabbath or to covet your neighbour’s wife, ox or ass. And for all of its alleged heinousness, there is no mention whatsoever of homosexuality anywhere in the decalogue.

(To be continued)

(Jeff Cumberbatch lectures in law at the Cave Hill Campus of UWI).

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