'Homosexual law' to be reviewed
- PNC declines invitation to meeting of parties

Guyana Chronicle
January 25, 2001

CONCERNS raised by the religious community against a new bill that outlaws racial and other forms of discrimination were taken up with President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday.

Church leaders were upset that the law seems to give legality to homosexuality and other forms of sexual behaviour not considered normal and agreement was reached that the bill would be sent back to Parliament for review.

The President honoured an earlier commitment to representatives of the religious community by convening a meeting to discuss the controversial Constitution (Amendment) (No. 5) Bill 2000 - Bill No.18/2000.

Religious and other groups felt the law fully legalised sexual relations between persons of the same sex.

At the meeting were leaders of religious organisations and representatives of the governing People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/Civic) and the opposition Alliance For Guyana (AFG) and The United Force (TUF).

Officials said it was decided that the President would not assent to the Bill and that it will be sent back to Parliament so that the parties in the National Assembly can reconsider it, taking into consideration the strong views of the religious community.

The main Opposition People's National Congress (PNC) refused to attend, turning down an invitation to its leader, Mr Desmond Hoyte from Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon.

PNC General Secretary, Mr Oscar Clarke told Luncheon in a letter that the recent decision by Justice Claudette Singh in the elections petition, has confirmed the party's position that "Mr Jagdeo's assumption of the Presidency has no legitimate basis."

In the circumstances, the PNC claimed Mr Jagdeo has no authority to convene any meeting in the capacity as President of the Guyana.

The PNC said if the religious community wants to discuss concerns with it, they can make contact for such a meeting to be convened at a mutually convenient time.

President Jagdeo has so advised the religious leaders as it is necessary for consensus from all parties in Parliament.

The approach was made to the President who had not assented to the Bill which had received unanimous support in the National Assembly.

They were told then that a discussion was necessary with the various political parties in Parliament if any changes were to be made to the constitutional amendment.

Yesterday, President Jagdeo said he would like to see the speedy passing of some of the sections of the amendment into law, such as those dealing with education as a fundamental right; the right to work and gender discrimination because of their importance to the well-being of the country.

Bishop Juan Eghill, of the Christian community, said the religious community was grateful for the opportunity to discuss their concerns as these relate to Article 149 of the amendment.

He said the discussions were cordial, adding they were able to reach an agreement at how the matter should be read.

The Bishop who said the group will take the initiative to discuss with the PNC representatives what took place, felt that should such cooperation continue, it will augur well for the country.

Speaking on behalf of the Muslim community, Haji Fazeel Ferouze said they too were thankful for the opportunity, since the controversial section is "very disturbing" to all peoples of every religion.

He expressed the hope that it will be amended to the satisfaction of all the religious organisations.

Roopnaraine noted the importance of agreement on a reasonable position on the issue.

He said the Constitution reform process from which the change originated was guided by certain agreements on the methods of work and procedures.

The return of the Bill will give Parliament another opportunity to again debate the particular process, he said, reminding of the need for it to receive the "widest possible support".

The TUF also agreed that the Bill should be returned.

Asked why concerns were not raised before, Bishop Edghill made it clear that it is in the spirit of the nation that the Bill is being returned, and it should not be viewed as being a review of the performance of anyone in the process or any Member of Parliament.

"We are looking at the issue as it now stands," he added.

President Jagdeo also made it clear that it is Parliament and not he who has the jurisdiction to amend the Bill.

"Any amendment will have to be done by Parliament," he emphasised.

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".

The Georgetown Ministers Fellowship (GMF), after a recent meeting had 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.

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.

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