EDITORIAL - Courageous stance worthy of replication

Published: Friday | December 23, 2011 Comments 0

Portia Simpson Miller should not be surprised if there is a massing of the hordes, and not only from religion, for a charge against her principled position that people's sexual orientation ought not to inhibit their right to participate in, and contribute to, national life.

Indeed, as the leader of the People's National Party (PNP) aptly put it during Tuesday's debate with Prime Minister Andrew Holness, the primary consideration for someone to serve in the Cabinet is an ability to do his/her job. So, Mrs Simpson Miller has no intention of becoming a voyeur, peeping into people's bedrooms or delivering questionnaires about sexual preferences in vetting contenders for Cabinet slots.

Further, she pledged that should the PNP form the government after next week's election, she would allow a conscience vote on the buggery law. If Parliament should repeal the law, that would effectively remove existing legal constraints to consensual sexual intercourse between gay males.

In committing to a review, these declarations by the leader of a major political party represent an important blow in favour of an often-abused minority, who are made out as interlopers in a country that is theirs too.

Bold move

Mrs Simpson Miller's courage in taking this stance, and its timing, ought not to be minimised, or overlooked. She did it in the middle of an election campaign in a largely homophobic Jamaica, with her party in a tight race with the governing Jamaica Labour Party.

The easier option, as Mr Holness took, would be to waffle about respecting Jamaican sentiment. That would ensure, at least, that fundamentalist Christians would not be trotting out scriptures to illustrate God's abhorrence of homosexuality. She now runs the risk of alienating anti-gay voters.

But Mrs Simpson Miller clearly understood that there is a larger principle at play - the advancement of the rights of individuals and ensuring a circumstance where too little already exists, that Jamaica does not lock out any talent.

It is not only an issue of gay rights, however, that will demand of Mrs Simpson Miller, or whoever gets to lead the country, courage and conviction.

Economic crisis

Jamaica is in an economic crisis, a critical manifestation of which is our $1.6-trillion debt that is 130 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). That debt and imprudent public-sector management fuel a fiscal deficit of around six per cent of GDP. Turning around these problems will require tough and unpopular decisions from a new government.

For example, the tax system will have to be reformed to earn more, which will mean that many individuals and sectors which have, in the past, evaded or avoided taxes will be required to pay their fair share. Such groups will resist, often loudly, arguing that their objectives are grounded in a higher economic ideal.

Refashioning the public sector for efficiency will lead to dismantling of power bases and the elimination of sinecures and the loss of some jobs. All government workers, rather than a few, will be required to contribute to their pensions.

Understandably, those affected won't like it. The instinct of political leaders has been to apply palliatives rather than dealing with the underlying maladies, which demand courage. Of the kind demonstrated by Mrs Simpson Miller on the gay-rights issue, and which we hope she or Mr Holness will replicate in the economic sphere.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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