Dealing with the gay rights issue

Published: January 13, 2012

People’s National Party (PNP) strategists must still be sighing with relief that there was no obvious backlash to Mrs Portia Simpson Miller’s affirmation in the pre-election debate that Jamaica’s buggery law needs to be reviewed.

We say ‘no obvious backlash’ because as we all know the PNP won the election by a 2-1 seat majority.

Like ourselves, sociologists and others with an interest in such matters must be extremely curious as to whether the election result means there is a significant softening in attitudes towards homosexuality among the Jamaican population.

It’s not as if elements in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) did not seek to profit from Mrs Simpson Miller’s remarks. We recall the Observer story of Saturday, December 24 reporting on how the JLP candidate for West Central St James and former Cabinet Minister Clive Mullings "armed with a Bible" lashed Mrs Simpson Miller’s comments from a political platform in Montego Bay.

As it turned out, Mr Mullings’ action was of no profit to him since he lost his seat.

Yet more reason, perhaps, to suggest a softening towards the gay community? We really do not know for sure.

Perhaps the promised "conscience vote" in Parliament, whenever it occurs — following suggested consultations with constituents — will provide scope for a proper exploration of how people really feel regarding this issue.

What we do believe is that Mrs Simpson Miller deserves commendation for her courage. Not only did she speak to the need to review the centuries-old law bequeathed to us by British colonialists, but insisted that she would not "pry" into people’s private lives and would appoint "anyone" to her Cabinet based on "ability" regardless of suspected sexual orientation.

In one stroke, she departed from the line taken by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who had declared "…Not in my Cabinet" when asked by British television three years ago if he would consider accommodating homosexuals in the Jamaican executive.

We sensed at the time, that the cautious, middling response of the then Prime Minister Andrew Holness to the gay rights question reflected a recognition, perhaps unconscious, of the possibility of a ‘softening’ in Jamaican public attitudes over recent years.

Of course, any Jamaican Government must also take into consideration the realities in the outside world. For in Europe and North America and many other places, gay rights are routinely considered fundamental human rights. And as Mr Golding once pointed out, the gay lobby is "perhaps the most organised" in the world. Our anti-gay entertainers have discovered that fact at great cost.

More to the point, the rich and powerful are increasingly insisting that countries like Jamaica abide by their code.

The European Union has long used aid and diplomacy as a fulcrum in its quest to influence countries like Jamaica and its Caribbean neighbours, as well as nations across Africa and the Third World to liberalise laws relating to homosexuality.

Late last year, British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that his Government will be linking aid to recognition of gay rights.

And since that time, the US Government publicly declared its intention to use foreign aid and diplomacy to encourage reform of gay laws.

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