Vote on sexual orientation should be a matter of conscience - MP Alexander
By Esther Elijah
Guyana Chronicle
June 8, 2003

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PEOPLE’S National Congress (PNC/R) Member of Parliament Mr. Vincent Alexander, said the Opposition will vote on “conscience” when the piece of legislation on sexual orientation is again brought before the National Assembly.

“With specific reference to my party, when this Bill gets back to the Parliament in the spirit of the arguments here, we will not use the `whip’. Our party will not say we have to vote for the provision (in the Sexual Orientation Bill). We will allow our members to vote as a matter of conscience,” he told participants gathered in the Conference Room of the National Library.

“We feel this is a matter of conscience. You may end up with a collective position but you have to deal with us individually,” Alexander said at a poorly attended public consultation aimed at gaining support for sexual orientation to be considered a fundamental right in Guyana.

Alexander, one of the main persons who sat on the Constitutional Reform Commission that addressed this controversial clause, said the legislation was not meant to legalise homosexual activities in Guyana.

“It was intended to ensure that persons who have an orientation - a way of thinking - which may or may not lead to a certain activity, to not be discriminated against, in terms of their rights,” he explained.

Alexander noted that very often, discussions on the sexual orientation provision in the Bill have led to seepages into other areas where debates centre on the “right to be homosexual.”

“I am saying the Bill does not comment on that… However, law is peculiar, especially in a Common Law system. Once you venture out and change the law, very often you open other windows which we cannot definitively say exist or does not exist in advance,” he said.

“The fear of some people is that the legislators might say one thing and the Courts will eventually say something else. While some people can’t argue against the law, per say, they will say this has opened a window of opportunity not meant to be opened. So, it is better to stay without a window than open it and then have a possibility of something you didn’t intend to happen - happening sometime in the future.”

Alexander added: “I want to say I’ve found this activity to have been rich from the perspective of the amount of research which was done by student (speakers). Without any comment as to whether I agree with the arguments, I would wish that much more research on other issues be done by students, and that at the University (of Guyana) students would find it convenient to have forums on other issues, with the same depth of research for their own intellectual development.”

Alexander and other Opposition M.P, Lurlene Nestor were the only three Parliamentarians in attendance at the session organised by the recently formed `Students Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination’ (SASOD), a group that has a membership of 15 mostly University of Guyana (UG) students from various faculties.

SASOD was established two weeks ago.

With the exception of members of the press, the consultation only managed to attract 11 persons, a handful of who were SASOD members.

While congratulating the students for an “insightful” presentation, Nestor pointed out that whether or not she chooses to agree with their position is “another issue” and she is entitled to her “own view”.

“The issue of sexual orientation is very `toucheous’ …while we agree with the human rights provisions and all that as a society, we must also revert to our own society. Some of the very critical questions that I would want to ask is whether or not at the society (level) we are ready for that kind of thing,” she remarked.

“We cannot, at (any) time, ignore the religious groups in our society. If we look at statistics going back to 1992 from a survey done by the Bureau of Statistics, we would see that a small section of the Guyanese population might be considered as people who do not subscribe to a religious view. While the laws are not necessarily based on moral values, we must acknowledge the fact that we might want to revert to many of the cases that (concern) laws that protect public morality.”

Nestor told the speakers at the consultation these were some of the issues that they needed to deal with.

She highlighted, too, that what must be examined is the effects of same-sex marriages on society and how this issue must be tackled.

“These are some of the things we should consider and I don’t think you dealt with that in the presentations,” Nestor stated, adding that the issues must be addressed “frontally.”

“Do we think that with the coming to being of this Bill that there might be quite a number of challenges to the Constitution in relation to the same issue of a man marrying a man? What do we do at the society (level)? Do we recognise that?” were the questions directed at the five speakers at the session.

Nestor continued: “There is some argument that says, `Oh the Bill does not promote homosexuality or does not encourage a man to marry (another) man, but if you look at Section (15) that talks about `non-discrimination’ then how can we not, with the passage of this Bill, allow a man not to marry (another) man.”

According to Nestor, matters of this nature constitute some of the “inconsistencies” of the Bill.

On the argument raised by presenters at the session on who determines what is morality, Nestor said in the concept of democracy it is the people who are the determinants based on a “line of thinking.”

She also rebutted on grounds that put the spotlight on teachers who may have been caught “interfering” with their young students and who may subsequently be dismissed from their jobs.

“Could you imagine such a person interfering with a boy below age 10 - and by virtue of the fact that the Bill is there, the judges (in the case) will have to use their discretion in terms of what happens. We will have more Constitutional changes and problems (arising with the passage of the Bill).”

SASOD member and law student, Joel Simpson, in reply, said he doesn’t think any homosexual in Guyana wants to “run into a church and ask that people marry them or anything of that sort.”

At one point likening the church to a “club”, Simpson claimed the church has the right to exclude whomever it wants. He further stated that in accordance with the Constitution, people of the same sex do not currently have the right to marry, and will also not be able to do such an act with the passage of the Bill.

However, Simpson said it is possible that the law, with the passage of the Bill, would have to recognise same-sex domestic partnerships in relation to employment benefits, sharing of properties, etc.

Simpson said he believes there should be a realm of “public” and “private” morality between consenting adults, and implied that the Bill did not fully give “rights” to homosexuals.

But, Nestor interjected: “I am informing you further…that the Sexual Orientation provision has, in fact, in some way recognised the rights of homosexuals and we must accept that.”

Meanwhile, there was no vocal Christian representative(s) at the consultation and apart from the two Opposition representatives none other participant gave comments or directed questions at the presenters.

Other speakers in support of the sexual orientation clause were: Moulana Mohammed Ali Zenjiban, Assistant Director of the International Islamic College; Denuka Radzik from Red Thread, Keimo Benjamin, UG law student and Vidyartha Kissoon from Help & Shelter.

The Sunday Chronicle has been reliably informed that the Georgetown Ministers Fellowship, representing groups of Christian leaders staunchly against sexual orientation as a right in Guyana, have recently prepared a detailed 16-page document outlining issues arising from research to further boost their argument against the inclusion of the clause.

The document is yet to be made public.

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