Last edited: February 14, 2005

Islands Resist Demand They Decriminalize Homosexuality

National Post, August 26, 1999
300 - 1450 Don Mills Road, Don Mills, Ontario, M3B 3R5

By Charles Laurence, National Post

GRAND TURK, TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS – Crowns, flags and passports may be one thing, but having to tolerate homosexuality is quite another, say the islanders of the remote British West Indies outpost of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

London’s latest attempt to wipe the last pink dots of empire from the modern map has run into furious, unexpected opposition over demands to change the islands’ own laws to bring them in line with current notions of human rights.

Anyone caught engaging in homosexual acts, even in private, can now be jailed for life. And "belongers," as the islanders are known, want to keep it that way.

The Bible, they say, describes homosexual activity as an "abomination," and as a God-fearing people they intend to resist imperialist demands to defy God’s word in favour of the British government’s.

Plans for the decriminalization of homosexual acts performed in private were spotted in the small print of last March’s white paper from the British Foreign Office on the future of British dependent territories.

The big scheme of the white paper is to change dependent territories to overseas territories.

On one hand, the deal is that islanders will get full British passports, allowing them to work anywhere in the European Union. On the other, it is to "regulate" the offshore finance industry to stop money laundering, and, gradually, to treat the Turks and Caicos just as if they were Surrey or Kent. And this means conforming to the European Charter on Human Rights.

Pastor Derek Hamilton, president of the Baptist Union and one of the most powerful voices on the islands, which have a population of 15,000, said: "The British white paper shrouds legalizing homosexuality in human rights. God did give His humans freedom of choice to do right and wrong, but He did not give freedom to define right and wrong. He places homosexuality prominently in His law as wrong.’’

Only a year ago, the Baptist Union had voted to "unconditionally reject" any liberalizing of the homosexuality laws, and congregations have raised their voices in a resounding "Amen."

This has left the governor, John Kelly, with a diplomatic problem. It is his job to persuade the local parliament to amend their laws, and he offers recent legislation in Bermuda as an example.

"The church feels homosexuality is an abomination, and I agree with them," he says.

"We are not suggesting they change their ideas or attitudes. What we want them to say is that homosexuality is an abomination, but is not criminal any longer, just as in the Bible adultery is sinful but is not criminal in most jurisdictions."

He points out that no one is currently in jail for such a crime, and no one can remember any prosecution under the island laws. But he also adds a warning with an echo of the old gunboats: If the territories fail to change their laws, London will change them for them.

[Home] [World] [United Kingdom]