Correction & Clarification
The editorial of Thursday, June 5, 2014 titled ‘Same-sex unions and the marriage contract’ incorrectly cited Section 28 of the (REB) Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. It should have been Section 18. We apologise for the error.
Stripped to its core, marriage, in law, is a contract between two persons - in Jamaica's case, a man and a woman - who agree, broadly, to pool their assets and, usually, live together.
Their motivation, mostly, is because they love each other and want to commit their lives together, or so they believe. This sometimes includes having children and raising a family.
But judging from the statistics, marriage is not a particularly popular institution in Jamaica, and is becoming increasingly so. For instance, according to the national census of 2011, nearly 70 per cent of Jamaicans over 16, the age at which people can legally marry, never did.
And those who marry are abrogating the contract at an increasingly faster rate. For example, in 2005, there were just under 26,000 marriages in the island and Jamaicans were tying the knot at the rate of 9.78 per 1,000 population. Five years later, the number of couples walking down the aisles had dropped by approximately 5,500, or 21 per cent.
At the same time, divorce was on the increase. At the middle of the last decade, there were around 1,800 divorces annually, or approximately seven divorces per 100 marriages. By 2010, the number of divorces had climbed by 31 per cent, or at a rate of 111/2 per 100 marriages. A not unexpected upshot of all this is that 80 per cent of Jamaica's children are born out of wedlock and the bulk of them have no registered fathers on their birth certificates.
We draw attention to these statistics neither to ridicule nor undermine marriage, for this newspaper appreciates its potential as an institution of social stability and respect its centrality to Christian and other religious ideologies. But by taking the marriage to its contractual core, it bares the persistence of hypocritical and anachronistic attitudes that perpetuate discrimination.
In Jamaica's case, we refer to Section 18 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, thereby ruling out the possibility of formal recognition of same-sex relationships. It is a provision that has its foundation in a deep-seated, if slowly receding, homophobia that has caused us to maintain the buggery provisions, which, essentially, criminalise male homosexuality and allows the State the role of commissar of sexual preferences and to invade the privacy of people's bedrooms. It matters nought that the power is little used; its existence is chilling.
Further, it is unassailable logic that Section 18 represents an assault on the principle of equality of people; people's right to forge relationships, especially when the exercise of those rights does not impinge on the rights of others; and their right to equal protection under the law. Indeed, a denial of these human rights is also an attack on the dignity of individuals who are prevented from the public expression of the powerful human emotion of love within the sanctity of marriage, although same-sex couples could well give the institution a shot in the arm.
The religionists and churches who are not willing to embrace same-sex marriages, but who already co-exist in a morally plural society, need not fear that they may have to compromise their ideologies. While civil registers are not so precluded, ministers of religions who are marriage officers are exempt, at Section 8 of the Marriage Act, from performing weddings that are contrary to the rules of their denominations.
Correction: The Editorial of Tuesday, June 3, 'Seek economic ties with Russia', should have read as follows: The Eurasian Economic Union (EaEU) will be launched in January, and NOT in Jamaica as was published. The Gleaner regrets the error.
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