EDITORIAL - Anti-gay illogic
There is widespread in Jamaica a paradox of logic that, unconfronted, could pose a systemic challenge to the rights of individuals, and their ability, especially among the poor majority, to seek redress, and get a fair hearing before the law.
Take the findings of last week's Bill Johnson poll on Jamaicans expressed their feelings about treatment by the judicial system. Ninety-five per cent of the respondents did not believe that poor people enjoyed the same rights as rich people, a view that was not overly weighted by the sentiments of any particular socio-economic group. Indeed, only three per cent of adult Jamaicans felt that there was equality under the law.
But almost all Jamaicans (95 per cent) felt that neither class, social status nor wealth should matter when it comes to respecting people's rights and ensuring their protection by the law. Which, of course, makes sense in a liberal democracy that is underpinned by the ideals of individual rights and freedoms. If those rights, even only of a single person, can, in perception or reality, be abridged without a reasonable prospect of redress, the basis of that democracy is diminished.
In that circumstance, bad men can become ascendant. In that regard, every individual in a society has an interest not only in protecting and expanding the rights and freedoms enjoyed by all, but ensuring that the mechanisms, including law enforcement and the judiciary that guarantee those rights work in favour of all. That brings us to another set of findings by Bill Johnson in the polls done for this newspaper with the regard to the treatment of gays in Jamaica.
An overwhelming proportion of Jamaicans (91 per cent) are against the repeal of the law against buggery, the act that makes anal sex illegal and, essentially, sets up the State as a voyeur of people's private behaviour. We have, in the past, insisted that the State ought not to be in the business of legislating the sexual preferences or behaviours of consenting adults and that the buggery law, which can be used against heterosexual couples who engage in anal sex, ought to be repealed.
Unfortunately, the rest of the society does not, at this time, support this obvious protection of this individual right and advancement of human dignity. But it is even worse than that.
Eighty-two per cent of Jamaicans do not believe that gay men are treated fairly by the legal system or law-enforcement agencies. Seventy-nine per cent had the same views in respect of lesbians. But they have no qualms with this obvious trampling of the rights of people who they deem to be different. Indeed, 68 per cent argued that gay men should not enjoy the same rights as the rest of people in the society, while for gay women, the figure is only three percentage points fewer.
Here is the rub: Among the two-thirds of Jamaicans who constrain the rights of gays are many of the 91 per cent who complained that the rights of the poor are not respected and would, rightly, wish it to be otherwise. But in good democracies, respect for the right of one group is not on the basis of the diminution of the rights of others, including its minorities, whether gays, ethnic groups or the losing side in an election.
Democracy is not the tyranny of the majority.
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