Not ready for gays

Published: Sunday | November 6, 2011 Comments 0
Prime Minister Andrew Holness during an interview last Friday.- Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer
Prime Minister Andrew Holness during an interview last Friday.- Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer

Jamaica is making positive steps towards securing and meeting its human-rights and civil-rights obligations.

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

Despite renewed pressure from Britain for Jamaica to repeal its anti-buggery law, Prime Minister Andrew Holness says it will be up to Jamaicans to signal such a desire.

Holness, who described himself as a "liberal in many things" and "a fiscal conservative on the economic side", said the Government recognises that homosexuality offends many Jamaicans.

"What the international community must be aware of in the Jamaican context is that we are a democracy, and this democracy is opening up more; people are talking; there are discussions, and I think they should support the evolving discussion. Over time, our democracy will settle at a position," Holness said, in an interview with The Sunday Gleaner.

Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to withhold aid from governments that did not repeal existing laws that criminalise homosexuality.

un request

On Friday, gay-rights group Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (JFLAG) claimed that Jamaica has been requested by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee to take specific actions to protect and promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Jamaicans and to report on the steps taken by next year.

"The committee has requested that the Government take steps to amend the buggery law and provide protection for LGBT persons and human-rights defenders. Specifically, they recommended that the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms be reviewed to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, and provide an update in one year," a release from JFLAG said.

For his part, Holness stressed that Jamaica has done much to protect individual rights and liberty.

He said governments have to pay attention to defending human rights and protecting civil rights.

While conceding that the country needs to do more in the area of human rights - for example, including that of protecting children, Holness said Jamaica has been honouring its obligations under international conventions.

He told The Sunday Gleaner that civil-rights provisions in the Constitution continue to be a work in progress.

"We spent almost 12 years debating what those civil rights should be, and those civil rights are now enshrined in a Charter of Rights," Holness said.

"And so, Jamaica is making positive steps to securing and meeting its human-rights and civil-rights obligations. Jamaica will continue (to do so) as it is a good global citizen, to meet these obligations.

"We pay attention, as we are global citizens, to what people have said, including what our own people are saying, and it is a conversation that is evolving," he added.

consider public impact

Holness argued that while it is important to protect the liberty of the person and the private space of the individual, the law must take into consideration the public impact of behaviours.

"People's private actions have public effect. In the Jamaican context, there is a public effect and governments have to pay close attention to that," he said.

Jamaica's Charter of Rights, which was passed by Parliament this year, does not recognise same-sex marriages.

When the Charter of Rights was being debated, then Prime Minister Bruce Golding made it clear his administration was not in support of gay marriages.

"There is the possibility that, some time in the future, Parliament could pass a law that says same-sex unions are legal, but it won't be done in this Parliament - not as long as I sit here," Golding said.

"I make no apology in saying decisively and emphatically that the Government of Jamaica remains irrevocably opposed to the recognition, legitimisation or acceptance of same-sex marriages or same-sex unions," Golding declared.

The former prime minister, who had declared he would not appoint gays to his Cabinet, said that while he accepts that Government "should not interfere in what two consenting adults choose to do within their own protected privacy, I will not accept that homosexuality must be accepted as a legitimate form of behaviour or the equivalent of marriage".
daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com

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