Tue | Apr 7, 2020

Gordon Robinson | So what if gay marriage is legalised?

Published:Sunday | October 6, 2019 | 12:19 AM
Lori Harvey (left), and her partner Amy Lipe shrug off an awkward moment when deputy clerk Paula Majors asked Harvey if she was ready to get married at the Civic Center in Evansville, Indiana, in June 2015. When asked, Harvey hesitated but then came back with a resounding yes.

I’m a Michael Abrahams fan.

He’s a quality comedian whose satirical music videos (often featuring the great Wayne Armond on guitar) are witty and incisive. In addition, he’s an intelligent, charming, sincere, empathetic, and down-to-earth person. He’s unlikely to ever “pop dung and fenkeh-fenkeh”.

I can’t assess his impact (yes, computer geeks, that word is still a noun) as a columnist because The Gleaner insists on hiding that aspect of his work from old farts like me by publishing it in the online edition only. At my age and stage, even when I remember which weekday he contributes to that mysterious publication, I’m often frustrated by having to perform the click samba dance (shades of Bob Marley?) with an artificially unintelligent rodent in order to gain access (yep, ANOTHER noun) to his written work.

But Twitter kerfuffle surrounding his latest column (‘MoBay mayor’s momentous misstep”) encouraged me to spend time finding and reading it. Of course, Michael and I are on the same side of this argument, but I was intrigued by the line he took to dispel some of Homer Davis’ and Charles Sinclair’s arrant nonsense on the issue of MoBay’s refusal to permit temporary LBGTQ+ use of its cultural centre. He wrote:

“The Montego Bay Cultural Centre is …. not a religious building, and allowing an LGBT group to host a function there would not be interfering with its ‘value’ … . Regarding Davis’ statement that “you must respect other people’s rights, too”, what on earth did he mean by that? How would staging the events at the centre be disrespecting the rights of others? That statement is patently nonsensical.

Charles Sinclair … added fuel to the fire, opining that allowing such an event would breach the municipal corporation’s mandate to uphold Jamaica’s Constitution, which only recognises marriage between a man and a woman. According to Sinclair, “We, as a government agency, must ensure that we uphold the Constitution of Jamaica, and, in upholding the Constitution, why would we engage a building controlled by the municipal corporation to be used to hold a function to promote same-sex marriage? It’s not consistent with the mandate that we have.”

But Sinclair’s statements were disingenuous. The events were not planned to “promote gay marriage”. What was planned was a series of events, including a film festival, a concert, and public forum under the theme ‘Is Jamaica Ready for same-sex marriage?’”

Same difference, Mike. This was a strategic lobby for repeal of archaic laws that demean and discriminate against LBGTQ+ humans while criminalising their intimacies and encouraging hatred and violence against them. It was also obviously intended as a lobby for the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

So what? In what universe would withholding permission to use MoBay’s cultural centre to lobby for same-sex marriage be “upholding Jamaica’s Constitution”? This is either an embarrassing display of ignorance about the Constitution or a deliberate attempt, using constitutional misdirection, to inflame already heated passions against a community of human beings. Either way, it’s bankrupt of relevance.

Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin’ for a train

And I’s feelin’ near as faded as my jeans.

Bobby thumbed a diesel down, just before it rained.

It rode us all the way to New Orleans

I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandanna

I was playin’ soft while Bobby sang the blues (yeah)

Windshield wipers slappin’ time;

I was holdin’ Bobby’s hand in mine.

We sang every song that driver knew

The 2011 Charter of Rights guarantees protection of citizens’ fundamental rights. Except that under a legally declared state of emergency, none of these rights are restricted in any way. Among the rights guaranteed by the Constitution is freedom of thought, conscience, belief, expression, and the right to seek, receive, distribute or disseminate information, opinions, and ideas through ANY media, including a gathering at MoBay’s Cultural Centre.

Lobbying for the legalisation of same-sex marriage is the dissemination of opinion and ideas that should include the dissemination of information regarding the rationale for the lobby’s objectives and its likely consequences. It isn’t at all contrary to the Constitution. In my opinion, it would be unconstitutional for a public authority to bar lobbyists from a public building because they were expected, or even certain, to disseminate ideas, opinions, and information promoting constitutional change.

What the Charter of Rights has done, in weak-kneed deference to another lobby group, namely, the religious Right, is to include the following protection for selected acts of Parliament:

“18.-(1) Nothing contained in or done under any law in so far as it restricts

(a) marriage; or

(b) any other relationship in respect of which any rights and obligations similar to those pertaining to marriage are conferred upon persons as if they were husband and wife, to one man and one woman shall be regarded as being inconsistent with or in contravention of the provisions of this chapter.”

This does nothing more than protect past laws restricting marriage to the union promoted by Christian dogma from being struck down as unconstitutional. It doesn’t restrict freedom of expression in any way.

Section 18 does go on:

“(2) No form of marriage or other relationship referred to in subsection (1), other than the voluntary union of one man and one woman may be contracted or legally recognised in Jamaica.”

This is a restatement of current law already protected in Subsection (1) and cannot make lobbying for change unconstitutional. I could argue at length that this sort of provision has no place in a Charter of Rights, but that argument would be otiose since the provision doesn’t attempt to bar discussion on, or promotion of, same-sex marriage. The bar to same-sex marriage already exists in ordinary law and is expressly protected from constitutional attack by Section 18(1).

So Subsection (2) is as superfluous as any argument regarding its inappropriateness AND a prime example of parliamentary cowardice. All this pusillanimous parliamentary expression has accomplished is to encourage promiscuity, adultery, and clandestine transmission of sexually transmitted infections within Christian ‘marriage’ since fornication between or among consenting adults has not YET been banned, and secret gay sex between consenting adults, including churchgoing ‘Christians’ and pastors, proliferates. It doesn’t prevent lobbying for any type of marriage. Just as Jamaica’s Constitution was amended to insert Section 18, it can be amended to delete Section 18.

Lobbying for constitutional change is a fundamental right that has been used for the improvement of humanity for centuries and turned mere mortals like Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela into heroic legends. Lobbying for changes in existing law was a tactic skilfully and successfully employed by one Jesus Christ, a revolutionary who protested against capital punishment for adultery ( “Ye without sin …”) and lobbied for the separation of Church and State ( “Render unto Caesar …”). Now, self-righteous bigots transform his “love thy neighbour” mantra into “love thy neighbour but mute, then kill him if he’s gay”.

Give me a break! To my friend Mikey Abrahams, this mild caution. Sometimes, by debating bigotry’s ludicrous premises, we end up helping to promote bigotry with a tacit admission its premises are correct. But once you start with nothing, nothing from nothing is still nothing!

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose

Nothin’, don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free, no no

Kris Kristofferson is one of Americana’s finest songwriters whose credits include For the Good Times, Help Me Make it Through the Night, and Sunday Morning Coming Down, all for other singers. For me, his best work appears on Me and Bobby(ie?) McGee (co-written by Fred Foster), recorded first by the great Roger Miller but turned into a classic (posthumously) by the legendary Janis Joplin.

The song is the story of two drifters who hitch a ride from a truck driver and sing as they drive through redneck America until parting with sadness in California. Owing to the singer being unnamed and ‘Bobby’ easily identifiable to both sexes, the song has been recorded by both male and female singers with only minor lyrical changes. It could easily be (horror of horrors) a same-sex couples song!

As for Homer Davis’ bilge water-smelling-bluster regarding respecting “other people’s rights”, WHAT RIGHTS? Is he referencing noise abatement laws? Where in the Constitution or any law is a right conferred upon anyone to prevent lobbying? No lobby group – not JTA, Police Federation, nurses, or LBGTQ+ – can pass laws. ALL have the fundamental right to lobby for laws to be passed, amended, or repealed.

If Parliament (whether after lobbying or not) were to amend the Constitution to delete Section 18 and pass a law legalising same-sex marriage, apart from inviting threats of eternal damnation from the religious nut factory, what would be wrong with that?

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.