The 'sexual orientation' amendment

Stabroek News
January 28, 2001

In our edition last Sunday an advertisement appeared, inserted by the "Leaders of the Christian Community," calling for a two-day fast to "repent" and "pray" for God's intervention to stop the legalisation of "homosexuality and all other forms of sexual immorality." These churchmen, since joined in their campaign by some leaders of the Muslim faith, are opposed to an amendment to Article 149 of the constitution, which extends the protection against discrimination to include the grounds of sexual orientation. The other additions to the article are age, disability, marital status, gender, language, birth, social class, pregnancy, religion, conscience, belief and culture.

The arguments set forth in the ad, stated, among other things, that sexual intercourse in the form of "fornication, adultery, homosexuality, lesbianism, paedophilia, bestiality - is abhorrent to God and counter-productive to the welfare of the individual, the family and the society." They went on to make a legal point, namely, that if the amendment were to be passed, then "teaching and acting against corrupt and ungodly sexual practices will be rendered an act of discrimination and thus illegal," and as churchmen, they were bound to teach the law of God.

With reference to the last point, the leaders are incorrect in their interpretation that the amendment would effectively prohibit them from teaching against homosexuality. Their freedom of expression would remain intact even if discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation became unconstitutional, and even if, at some later point the law against buggery were to be repealed. Where the latter is concerned, however, it is a moot point as to whether the amendment would have the effect of rendering unconstitutional the current law making sexual acts between men an offence. As it stands, however, the issue is, as Bishop Singh of the Roman Catholic Church has rightly said, one of discrimination against people who are homosexuals, and not against homosexuality itself. "We need to remind ourselves," he wrote in a pastoral letter, "that as Christians we are called to oppose every kind of discrimination against persons. We are called to reach out to all minorities and especially to those who find themselves in a minority they did not choose." His approach has also found support from Bishop George of the Anglican Church.

It is most unfortunate that the Church leaders who were signatories to the advertisement waited seven months before raising objections to the amendment. It had already been passed by Parliament, and was simply awaiting the approval of the President when they embarked on this campaign. Why? As a consequence of their lobbying, the President has refrained from signing the bill into law, and has sent it back to the legislature. This political manoeuvring by some of the religious leaders has caught all the parties at a disadvantage; this is the election season, and no one wants to be seen to be flying in the face of the churches in case it costs them votes. Yet all the parties, to their credit, had agreed to the amendment in the first instance, and had passed it unanimously in the National Assembly.

If either of the two major parties weakens now, then the other will probably follow suit for political reasons. If that happens, then it will be a serious blow to human rights in this country. All the parliamentary parties need to agree to stand firm on the question of the amendment, because if they do that then none of them can be singled out, wrongly, as it happens, for being 'ungodly.'

Many church leaders in this country, and the Guyana Council of Churches in particular, have an unassailable record of fighting for human rights. Surely they do not wish to undermine that record now. Since when did they start advocating that discrimination against any individual, however sinful that person may be in their eyes, should be lawful? Since when did they become converts to the position that an individual could, to give one possible example, be refused gainful employment on the grounds of sexual orientation? As a nation whose peoples historically have endured discrimination in its most extreme forms, and who understand only too well what that implies, how can we now be entertaining a return to the past in relation to any minority?

The churches are not being asked to endorse homosexuality. They are being asked to outlaw discrimination against human beings in all its forms.

Surely that, at least, is a fundamental tenet which we can all agree upon.

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