Letter of the Day | Intensify dialogue on scrapping buggery law
THE EDITOR, Sir:
THE YEAR 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 in the United Kingdom. This notable bill partially decriminalised some forms of gay sex in England and Wales, some 10 years after the government-sponsored Wolfenden Committee made a strong case for change and recommended serious reform.
Across the Commonwealth though, including in Jamaica, these laws are still on the books and are often defended with religious passion. This historic anniversary is a good time to review the progress for LGBTQI people in countries that enacted similar laws.
History has shown that churches play a key role in making, retaining and repealing laws that affect LGBTQI people. While the dominant discourse has been the role of the Church in the retention of anti-buggery laws, there is diversity in the Church community and less is known about the role of the Church in the repeal of such laws.
Throughout the1950s and '60s, many leaders of mainstream churches backed the decriminalisation of gay sex, which helped accelerate law reform in some jurisdictions. In the United Kingdom, for example, the Church of England was instrumental in the repeal of the country's anti-sodomy law. A 1955 church committee report that proposed the repeal of criminal sanctions for same-sex conduct led to the Wolfenden Committee recommending decriminalisation in 1959.
Strident, anti-gay sentiment and certain theological interpretations, however, have proven more resistant to change. While Britain has had decades to change hearts and minds and rally behind its own law, exported anti-sodomy laws continue to cause great harm, including suffering and death, in some Commonwealth countries.
Later this week, to mark the 50th anniversary of the first Commonwealth repeal of anti-gay statutes in England and Wales, a conference will be held in Jamaica where the weight of a colonially imposed 1864 law that criminalises same-gender intimacy with up to 10 years' imprisonment is still felt.
LICENCE FOR ABUSES
Since 2012, those convicted under this archaic law must also register as sex offenders and always carry a pass or face up to 12 months' imprisonment, plus a J$1-million fine for each offence. These laws not only serve as a licence for horrendous human-rights abuses and anti-gay attacks, including murder, but also foster the stigma, discrimination and fear of disclosure that contribute to the Caribbean's staggering HIV rate, second only to sub-Saharan Africa.
This conference, Intimate Conviction, is the first of its kind. It provides an opportunity for a range of church positions to be heard, for global experiences to be shared, and to broaden the religious discourse around the repeal of laws affecting LGBTQI people.While there is much still to be done, the Church of England is committed to its stand to defend the human rights of all.
Bishop of Buckingham
Rector of Christ Church (Anglican)