Uproar over `homosexual law'

Guyana Chronicle
January 21, 2001

RELIGIOUS and other groups are against a change in the law which they say opens the door to legalising homosexuality and other forms of sexual behaviour not accepted before.

As a result, the Constitution (Amendment) (No. 5) Bill 2000 - Bill No.18/2000 which Parliament earlier this month approved, has been put on hold and President Bharrat Jagdeo has not yet assented to it, a senior government official said.

All parties in the National Assembly approved the bill which, among other things, prohibits discrimination of a person on the basis of his sexual orientation.

Some religious groups say this means the full legalising of sexual relations between persons of the same sex.

Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon told reporters Friday that as a result of the disapproval by the religious fraternity, President Jagdeo will meet the concerned parties before he assents to the amended legislation.

The amendment to the Constitution which initially read that no person shall be discriminated against on the basis of his "race, place of origin, political opinion, colour or creed", was based on a recommendation of the Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC).

The amended section added 13 new grounds on which a person cannot now be discriminated against, including "sexual orientation".

Luncheon noted that disapproval by religious bodies seems to have led to some consolidation of their views.

He pointed out that the religious fraternity was "well represented at the level of the constitutional reform process" and said "their views still have merit in the eyes of the administration."

Asked whether the President's delay in passing the law will not hold up the entire constitutional amendment process, since other matters which have a bearing on the scheduled March 19 elections are included, Luncheon said he would have to be so advised.

This weekend's Catholic Standard, the organ of the Catholic Church in Guyana, said Chancellor of the Diocese, Fr John Persaud noted that while the National Assembly has made a major step towards decriminalising homosexuality, its practice still remains forbidden by the Church.

He said although same sex couples may even eventually have a right to be legally married, there will be no such marriages in the Church.

The Georgetown Ministers Fellowship (GMF), after a meeting last Sunday, issued a resolution strongly deploring the action of the National Assembly to enact legislation that "protects sexually immoral conduct and has the potential to destroy the moral foundations of our nation".

It said it will continue its effort to work with national authorities to preserve and promote the highest standards of morality, while demonstrating "Christ-like love and respect for those with whom we may disagree".

The organisation called on the President and other relevant authorities to take appropriate action to ensure that this element of the amendment does not enter into law.

The issue has attracted widespread attention with some backing the change and many others condemning the move.

Most callers on a live call-in programme Thursday on the CNS Channel Six TV station condemned any move to legalise sexual behaviour not considered normal.

One caller declared that "any form of sex -- if it's not between a man and a woman -- is a crime...the law (Guyana) says it's a crime, the Bible says it's abomination."

Another called the Bill "total trash" and said homosexuality should not be legalised.

Many callers felt that if homosexuality is legalised, it would be "very destructive to society and morally wrong".

The GMF pointed out that the amendment redefines the expression "discriminatory" to mean "affording different treatment to different persons...(based on) "...sexual orientation..."

It noted a vote was taken in the National Assembly on January 4 this year to enact the bill by a margin of 55 to 0.

The religious body said it is conscious of its responsibility as representatives of a wide cross-section of the Christian community in Guyana to promote Biblical values and practices that strengthen the moral fabric of the society.

It recognised that the elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation provides protection for behaviour, including homosexuality and lesbianism in the highest legal instrument of the land.

The GMF said "such perversion of one's sexuality" is condemned in Scripture which says, "Thou shall not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination." (Leviticus 18:22).

It declared that under this constitutional provision "such deviant social behaviour as same-sex marriage and the adoption of children by such `couples'; the appointment in all areas of society of self-confessed homosexuals and lesbians; and the free participation of such persons in national institutions including churches, cannot be prohibited."

According to the Fellowship, the permissiveness sanctioned by this amendment has far-reaching implications, such as its association with HIV/AIDS, the corruption of children and youth and the embarrassment of elders.

"This is the time for strong activism; we have to move swiftly because the future of Guyana lies with all those who sit in the National Assembly", said one supporter of the religious community's stand.

"Christians, Muslims, Hindus, concerned citizens need to begin to lobby the parliamentarians and they need to express their views...this bill we are hoping will be laid in Parliament in a corrected and acceptable version..." the backer added.

A woman who also asked not to be identified said, "I would like to see the freedom preserved to be decent, to uphold God's rules. I do not want us to be importing rules and values from other nations where they have disregarded and disrespected, they have no more remembrance of God."

"We must not go that way. Let us make it a reality of this nation to be independent in our thought and in our conduct and stop being just `copycats'..."

She argued that countries like Guyana follow everything the First World nations do.

"It is not working for them but we are still following them...how foolish can we be?" she asked.

A letter writer to this newspaper appealed to President Jagdeo and Members of Parliament not to pass this "destructive bill" and urged Guyanese to "unite to oppose this act'.

The letter urged the religious community and the populace in general to focus on the issue of the intended passing of the "Homosexual Act" since this is not about race or politics but of "human dignity".

The writer pointed out that based on his understanding of the Act, "if a priest or anyone in a similar capacity refuses to perform the marital rites for two parties of the same sex, he could be sued."

Another person said, "one of the most sinful acts known to humankind is what is termed homosexuality."

"This sin is evidence of perverted instincts, total collapse of shame and honour (and) is violently rejected by natural instincts."

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