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Maurice Tomlinson | Why is Peter Espeut so anal?

Published:Tuesday | May 1, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Maurice Tomlinson
Deacon Peter Espeut prepares for Communion during Mass at the St Anne’s Catholic Church in west Kingston on February 18. The Gleaner columnist has been criticised for his hard-line views on gay rights.
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As a Christian, I always cringe when I read Roman Catholic deacon and sociologist Peter Espeut's articles concerning LGBT people. As an office holder in a church ostensibly built on the 'rock' of Christ's example and command to reach those on the margins of society, this modern Peter's writings display a dangerous hostility towards vulnerable LGBT people.

In his latest tirade ('Ginnalship and the gay agenda', Gleaner, April 27, 2018), Espeut argues that it is premature to celebrate the Belize and Trinidad court decisions that struck down those countries' anti-sodomy laws. Peter also resorted to calling Jamaican gays and their allies "ginnals" because they want the 1864 British colonially imposed anti-sodomy law amended in order to punish the anal rape of boys (now a maximum of 10 years under the anti-sodomy law) with the same severity as the vaginal rape of girls (which is up to life imprisonment). To Peter, this request is not about "protecting" boys, but pushing a devious gay agenda.

A quirk in the Jamaican Constitution "saves" all pre-Independence laws, such as the anti-sodomy statute, from constitutional review once they remain unchanged. So, even if the subject law violates a host of human rights, such as privacy, only Parliament can strike

it down. This obviously undermines the court's function as guardian of the Constitution to interpret the validity of laws.

While I make no claims as to whether equalising the punishment for all rapes will protect boys, I would remind Peter about Christ's injunction to take the plank out of one's own eye before attempting to dislodge the speck from the eyes of another. The moral authority of the Catholic Church to speak about protecting children is certainly tainted in light of the legion of paedophile priests who the Church protected for centuries.

But, Peter was not content to stray into a questionable moral discourse; he also believes that as a sociologist, he can confidently opine on legal interpretation as well! As is often the case, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. As a lawyer and law lecturer, I would, therefore, like to clarify some of the finer legal points for Deacon Espeut.

 

VIOLATES CONSTITUTION

 

First, following the withdrawal of the Belize Catholic Church from the court case (thanks, in part, to the installation of a more humane and pastoral bishop), the government was the only party left to appeal the historic decision to strike down the anti-sodomy law. The government had initially accepted the chief justice's ruling that the statute violates the constitution.

However, after pressure from powerful anti-gay religious organisations, the government decided to appeal only one issue, whether the definition of 'sex' in the constitution's non-discrimination clause also included 'sexual orientation'. This interpretation will not affect the repeal of the law, as there is no question that it unjustly infringes several other constitutional rights.

And as for the Trinidad decision, LGBT people and allies across the region anticipated and are quite prepared for the matter to be appealed. This is because a first-instance decision will have less persuasive value than one from an apex court. So, hopefully, this matter will quickly be taken up by Trinidad's final appellate body, the UK Privy Council, which, coincidentally, is also the final court for several Caribbean countries with anti-sodomy laws, including Jamaica.

In the Jamaican case of Lambert Watson v the Queen [2004] UKPC, the Privy Council said that savings-law clauses must be narrowly interpreted while constitutional rights must be liberally construed. There is, therefore, great anticipation that the Trinidad decision will accelerate the end of anti-sodomy laws in the nine other anglophone Caribbean countries that still have them.

Time will tell how the Jamaican courts will rule on our anti-sodomy law, but as the prime minister recently acknowledged, the country is changing and becoming more tolerant of the human rights for LGBT people. Archaic and hateful anti-gay laws will eventually disappear.

- Maurice Tomlinson, who is openly gay, is an attorney-at-law and gay-rights lobbyist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.