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EDITORIAL - PM should decry homophobic bigotry

Published:Tuesday | January 31, 2012 | 1:00 AM

The story of Maurice Tomlinson, a lecturer at the University of Technology (UTech), reported by this newspaper yesterday, reverberates with the insensitivity of supposed students of the law and at the same time highlights the mediaeval attitude that still largely prevails in Jamaica towards gays.

And having declared her principled position on the rights of gays, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller should add her voice to the protection of Mr Tomlinson's rights under the Constitution of Jamaica.

Maurice Tomlinson is an attorney. He also teaches law at UTech. He came into public notice more recently when it was reported in Canada that he had married his male partner.

In homophobic Jamaica, where a former prime minister declared that he would have no gays in his Cabinet and his successor waffled, equivocated on and parsed his response to the subject, Mr Tomlinson's action is a potential death sentence.

Myopic law students

Indeed, he has gone into hiding and has told this newspaper that he was advised by the police that it would be unsafe to appear on the UTech campus "because my security has been compromised". Put bluntly, Mr Tomlinson has received death threats.

The university law faculty has been unable, as yet, to find a substitute lecturer for Mr Tomlinson's course, and students were advised - apparently by Mr Tomlinson - to sit in with other lecturers.

What has surprised this newspaper is the response of some part-time students affected by the disruption - an apparent absence of sympathy or concern for a man whose life is reportedly in danger.

They are angry over personal scheduling difficulties caused by Mr Tomlinson's absence, complaining that even with the arrangement he attempted to put in place, "we will still be at a disadvantage".

We would be forgiven if we concluded that this lack of empathy and compassion by the affected law students betrays both deep moral failings and weak appreciation for the course of study on which they have embarked. Put another way, it would seem that the concentration of these UTech students is on certification. The substance of the law is secondary.

Breach to one, breach to all

What even early students of the law, like those taught by Mr Tomlinson, should have already learnt is that their rights as individuals cannot be secure if his can be trampled on with impunity. The ultimate protection of one's rights is a democratic society's adherence to the rule of law. There is no more fundamental right than the right to one's life, which, incidentally, is among the first named rights and freedoms protected in Section 13 (3)(a) of the Charter of Rights in Jamaica's Constitution.

Perhaps, in time, the peeved UTech students will appreciate that the application of the law has to be universal, and universally fair, for it to be worthy. Prime Minister Simpson Miller can help in promoting this understanding.

The prime minister displayed courage in defending people's right to lifestyles of their choice when she declared that sexual orientation would not be a criterion for membership in her Cabinet. She must repeat often that there is no right to impunity against people whose lifestyles the majority does not like. For a real test of a democracy is how it protects the rights of minorities.

The PM should also champion the cause for the repeal of the buggery law.

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.