Sat | Nov 18, 2017

Editorial | Mr Holness should listen to Bishop Gregory

Published:Thursday | July 27, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Howard Gregory's insistence of the illogic of Jamaica's buggery law is unassailable, as is his argument that Prime Minister Andrew Holness' promise of a referendum to resolve the issue is merely a smokescreen behind which to avoid confronting a controversial issue.

But while Mr Holness and his administration are likely to be chagrined by Bishop Gregory's forthrightness, our advice is that they treat the intervention by the head of the Anglicans in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands as a teachable moment. He provided both the moral, theologically sophisticated and practical precepts upon which a modern state and a globalised world should, and ought to, do the right thing and repeal the law.

Moreover, if the prime minister is discomfited by the bishop's characterisation of the reason for the Government's failure to lead on this issue, he should know that it is congruent with earlier explanations by Justice Minister Delroy Chuck: that Jamaican governments have been afraid to act because they fear possible political mobilisation by the fundamentalist Christian church leaders.

A parliamentary committee is now reviewing Jamaica's sexual offences laws and, not surprisingly, the issues that gain most attention, in a society where the public rhetoric is often anti-homosexual, are those pertaining to buggery, or anal intercourse, which the Offences Against the Person Act makes illegal.

While acknowledging that the anus is not a sexual organ, Bishop Gregory told the committee that anal sex has "always" been part of sexual activity between people, whether in heterosexual or homosexual relationships.

"... What happens in privacy between consenting adults should be beyond the purview of government," he said.

That can, and should, happen without impinging on other elements of the law, including dealing with exhibitionism and rape, which is congruent with the position often articulated by this newspaper, but contrary to the dogma of the Christian fundamentalists who, Mr Chuck argued in May, posed a challenge to governments, causing parliamentarians to follow rather than lead in this issue.

It is against this backdrop that Bishop Gregory, drawing on the works of other mainstream Christian thinkers, suggested that while Christians in a democracy will seek to have the State listen and act by the moral vision and values of Jesus Christ, it is not its intent to fashion the State, and the society more broadly, into the Church. It is in that context that he cautioned against "doctrinaire positions which deposit the notion that, in all things, we must be the gatekeepers of the law against buggery in order to prevent any further development towards what is perceived to be the road towards liberalisation and, ultimately, the legalisation of homosexual marriages".

In that regard, Bishop Gregory, like this newspaper, supported the broadening of the definition of rape, away from its restriction of penetration of the vagina with the penis without consent. "We would do well to move from preoccupation with whether we are dealing with a vagina or an anus, a male or a female, and focus on the individual and the impact of the experience on the victim," he said.

Bishop Gregory did not advocate for same-sex marriage and nothing in his submission is a natural progression thereto, as the fundamentalists will claim. The definition in the Constitution of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, however, undermines other fundamental rights guaranteed by the supreme law. For it eliminates the freedom of one group of citizens, gay people, to express love for each other through the institution of marriage.