Last edited: February 14, 2005

Caribbean Leaders Blast British Demands To Legalize Homosexuality

Cox News Service, April 23, 1999

By Shelley Emling

MIAMI – There’s a hurricane brewing in the Caribbean, but it has nothing to do with wind or rain.

Caribbean leaders are outraged by a British government proposal to restore full citizenship to its 13 remaining colonies, from the Pacific to the Caribbean – at a price.

Britain has ordered the island commonwealths to ditch the death penalty and bans on homosexuality, and to tighten regulation of offshore banking, the lifeblood of islands such as Bermuda.

The colonies are to bring their laws into line with British practice by the end of the year.

And if the colonies’ local governments do not comply, Britain will change their laws for them.

"We are committed to seeing it done," said British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.

Cook unveiled the proposal before the British Parliament on March 17 after months of wrangling over the citizenship issue. The Parliament is expected to vote on the plan within weeks.

Cook said the move would end the "strong sense of grievance" felt in the territories since their citizenship rights were taken away by the Thatcher government in 1981.

But in the Caribbean, a region that’s historically religious and conservative, the demand to legalize homosexual acts, in particular, has incited controversy.

Earlier this month, the community affairs minister in the Cayman Islands, Julianna O’Connor-Connolly, said the Cayman Islands had a "mandate from God" to retain its ban on gay sex.

"We abide by the views of the vast majority of Caymanians who live in a Christian community based on firmly held religious beliefs that homosexuality should not be legalized," the government said in a recent statement.

The homosexuality question became a hot-button issue last year when the Cayman Islands prohibited an American cruise ship carrying some 900 gay men from making a one-day stop there.

Later anti-gay activists in Jamaica protested against a scheduled performance by the Village People, a six-member band that became gay icons in the late 1970s, causing the group to cancel their concert.

All this prompted U.S. gay and lesbian groups to boycott some islands – including the Caymans and Jamaica – citing blatant and widespread discrimination.

"We’ve continued to put pressure on these islands because we’ve received reports of gay travelers feeling harassed in certain places," said Augustin Merlo, executive director of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Islands have often found themselves torn between their conservative cultures and a desire to attract tourism dollars from gays and lesbians who represent a $47.3 billion travel market.

Cornelius Smith, tourism minister in the Bahamas, said most Caribbean islands welcome gay tourists, although anti-homosexual sentiments shouldn’t come as a surprise in a region where churches are often more pervasive than bars.

In the Bahamas, which is not a British colony but where homosexuality is also illegal, one pastor has helped organize a Christian group called Save the Bahamas that plans to lobby for stricter sodomy laws as well as a ban on gay cruises.

"It is often said that when the United States sneezes, the Caribbean catches the flu, so when morals decline in the United States, they decline here," said Vaughn Miller, pastor of Nassau’s Resurrection Tabernacle Church.

"Obviously we don’t want that to happen," he added.

David Smith, senior strategist with the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based gay and lesbian lobbying group, said he is stunned by discrimination in the Caribbean and that "recalcitrant protectorates" were acting outside the mainstream.

"Such discrimination against an entire group of people is egregious," he said.

Meanwhile, the conservative American Family Association has applauded the resolve of Caribbean islands that won’t bend to British demands.

It is urging its 350,000 supporters in the May issue of the association’s magazine to contact the British Embassy in Washington to voice dissatisfaction with the government’s proposal.

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