Sat | Apr 21, 2018

Ian Boyne | Repeal buggery law

Published:Sunday | August 14, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Ian Boyne
Dr Wayne West (forefront) at a protest outside the University of the West Indies, staged on May 26, 2014, in solidarity with retired Professor Brendan Bain who lost his job in a flash point case over gay rights and freedom of speech.
Carolyn Gomes believes the Belize ruling is the first wave of a tide that will lead to the collapse of buggery laws in the Caribbean.
In this August 2011 file photograph, Maurice Tomlinson (right) and other activists stage a protest against homophobia in Montego Bay, St James. Gay-rights advocates have resisted Jamaica's buggery law, arguing that it unfairly stigmatises and criminalises consensual sex between gay men.

Caribbean gay activists and their sympathisers were considerably buoyed this past week by the ruling of the Belizean Supreme Court striking down the buggery law as unconstitutional. Jamaican gays are hoping that our judiciary will do likewise.

But conservative Christians are ready for battle. Wayne West of the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society is well-practised in the art of political war. Fundamentalist Christians outmanoeuvred seasoned human-rights warriors in getting the Jamaican Parliament to pass a Charter of Rights law that entrenches the Christian definition of marriage. People who fear same-sex marriage legislation in Jamaica anytime soon don't know the huge victory that Christian activists like Shirley Richards and Wayne West have scored. As a former Jamaican chief justice said, if a war you want, a war you going to get, Mr Gay Rights Activist.

Dr Carolyn Gomes, executive director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, said the judgment should mark "the beginning of the overturning of these archaic, colonially imposed laws which, as the judgment says, do damage to the dignity, rights, and freedom of expression of the gay communities around the region". The UN special envoy for HIV in the Caribbean said the decision "must give impetus to the Justice for All Movement throughout the Caribbean, the struggle to dismantle all forms of stigma and discrimination, and the goal of elevating the principles of dignity and respect for all".

Our own Jamaican gay-rights gladiator, attorney-at-law Maurice Tomlinson, who has his own case in the Jamaican courts seeking to overturn our buggery law, was ecstatic about Wednesday's Belizean decision. "Although not binding on the rest of the Caribbean, the jurisprudence in this case is highly persuasive, especially in my own challenge to the Jamaican anti-sodomy law that is currently before the Supreme Court."

It will certainly embolden gay rights activists here, but the Christians - and large numbers of non-Christians, too - are ready for them. It's all-out war. And rationality will be the first casualty. Wayne West is right: This is a political issue. It is not being fought on rational, intellectual grounds largely. The Christians are on firmer ground admitting that their vehement opposition to repealing the buggery law has more to do with political, rather than strictly theological, considerations.


Motivated by fear


The first thing both sides should do is to understand each other. Christians are largely motivated by fear. They fear, as Wayne West has articulated plainly, that if we repeal the buggery law, the way is cleared for teaching homosexuality as normal in our schools. If homosexual acts are no longer illegal, there is no basis for keeping "filthy people" from sneaking in objectionable passages in textbooks normalising homosexuality.

If buggery is decriminalised, what is to stop gays pushing their homosexuality in our faces on television through ads and specially sponsored programmes? Some Christians, if pressed, will admit that their justification for the retention of the buggery law is inconsistent. But they say we need to retain it, for its presence prevents a floodgate of homosexual brainwashing.

When we retain the criminalisation of male homosexual acts, we send a signal through law about the values we cherish, the things we hold dear, and what we abhor. Law has that function, the Christian fundamentalists will tell you. So even if the buggery law is rarely enforced, just like the law in some European countries banning the display of the swastika and denying the Holocaust is rarely executed, these laws make a point of what a society values and abhors.

So, according to Wayne West, Shirley Richards, and Philippa Davies, it is important that we keep the buggery law. They would not take kindly to other Christians like me being 'soft' on this matter, for they say we must understand the gravity of what is involved: This is political war, and we can't cede anything to the infidels with their unrighteous agenda. They would see people like me as a tad naive, blindsided by intellectualism and perhaps a lust to appease secularists.

I understand the view. I have thought about it carefully. And this is my response:


Don't impose views on non-Christians


I have a major theological and philosophical disagreement with my fellow Christian activists on this one. I, like them, hold that homosexual acts are immoral because I have a conservative view of Scripture. I believe it is untenable to have a conservative reading of Scripture and not hold that homosexual acts are contrary to God's purposes and will. You just can't justify homosexual practice from any plain reading of Scripture. It can't be done. Anyone who believes it can be done has not read a serious theologian like Robert Gagnon, who has provided a most sophisticated refutation of pro-homosexual exegesis.

But my major disagreement with Wayne West and his fellow activists is that I believe that in a pluralistic society, Christians have no right, and certainly no obligation, to impose their views of morality on non-Christians. I hold the exilic view of Christianity: We are exiles in this society. We have an obligation to follow our Christian ethical commitments, but we should live and let live. Gays, Muslims, Hindus, obeah workers, Rosicrucians, Rastafarians, astrologers, and pagans have a right to their practices. This is not a theocracy. Now I don't hold the foolish view that by lobbying to have their views adopted by politicians, Christian activists like West and Richards are being dictatorial.

No, this is a free, democratic society, and Wayne West has as much right as Carolyn Gomes and Maurice Tomlinson to push for his views to be accepted by the courts or the State. Do not try to bully Wayne West or to silence him. Stop it! Let him and other Christians march, demonstrate, and lobby against any repeal of the buggery law. That is their democratic right. Insulting them and maligning them is contrary to the spirit of democracy and is demagoguery. I keep saying that many of these so-called liberals are very illiberal in their views and are extremely intolerant and bigoted toward religious people, though they inveigh against bigotry.

They feel religious people should shut up, and if they are given their way, they would suppress the free speech of people like Wayne West, Philippa Davies, Helene Coley-Nicholson, and Shirley Richards. They only want pro-gay, 'enlightened' views to be heard.

I am not invested in retaining the buggery law. I see no rational, non-political justification in retaining the buggery law and criminalising consensual sin between adults. (Gay readers, you have to allow me my freedom to call your love sin. That's just my backwardness - which a democratic society allows). Why cast as unapprehended criminals people who are sinning just like fornicators and adulterers? If we don't criminalise adultery, why criminalise homosexuality? On what theological grounds? It's not fair. It is just political. It is not rational, theological, or philosophical.


Public-health issues irrelevant


Raising a host of public-health issues to continue criminalisation is irrelevant, Wayne. Male homosexuality might, indeed, be associated with a number of health dysfunctionalities, but should that make it illegal? Do we criminalise other things that are unhealthy? Is health grounds for criminalisation? But, more important, if we really want to make a point about the abomination of homosexuality and want to be strict with it, why let off lesbianism, which is not criminalised? Lesbians are free to engage in same-sex practice, and West is not lobbying for that to be criminalised, too. That is grossly inconsistent. His case collapses on moral grounds. That is why he pushes the public-health issues so strongly, but that's not grounds for moral argumentation or for legislation against buggery.

The campaign to retain the buggery law is incoherent - theologically and philosophically. We are in a pluralistic society in which there are different moralities. The majority have no moral right to oppress a minority. That was never the intention of democracy. The 'tyranny of the majority' was a concept understood by early advocates of democracy who insisted that minority rights must be protected in a democratic society.

I can live in a society without the buggery law. This is not the kingdom of God. I await it. But then these fundamentalists disagree with me on theological grounds and hence they must fight, unlike Jesus' exhortation to his disciples. They are Shari'a Christians.

- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to and