We expressed our opinion on this subject in a Pastoral letter in January 2001 when the issue was first raised. At this juncture we believe that we can do no better than to underline what we said then.
Human rights and human development
Humankind continues to be the primary concern of the Church. We believe that the human person possesses innate dignity by virtue of being made in the image and likeness of God, and that by virtue of this dignity he or she enjoys certain inalienable rights and freedoms. Respect for these rights will elevate human dignity and promote authentic human development. “True development requires that every man and woman be seen as the subject of inalienable rights and freedoms, and that the social, cultural and religious dimensions of life be always and everywhere defended and promoted.” (Pope John Paul II, Ultimate Truth must guide Political Life, March 2000). The duty of public authorities is to ensure that these rights “are acknowledged, respected, coordinated with other rights, defended and promoted.” (Facem in Terris #60).
Protection of minorities
Respect for the inalienable rights of citizens extends also to minorities and groups excluded from the mainstream of society. In fact, the quality of justice of a society is often measured in terms of how it treats its most vulnerable members.
Guyana is a diverse nation of many religious, races and groups, thirsting for peace. Building a peaceful society requires a wholehearted commitment to eliminate all forms of discrimination. One of the objectives of the State ruled by law is that all its citizens may enjoy the dignity associated with protection from discrimination, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief or political affiliation.
The principle of the unity of the human race also calls attention to the need for us to protect others from discrimination. This takes its origin from the one God, the Creator, who “made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth.” (Acts 17:26). The unity of the human family requires that the whole of humanity should strive for a community that is free of discrimination between peoples and one that strives for reciprocal solidarity. (John Paul II, World Peace Day message 1989).
The Constitution Amendment Bill 16 of 2000
A human right can only be acknowledged in terms of persons. A clear distinction thus needs to be made between discrimination against a person by virtue of their sexual orientation and discrimination against sexual orientation. One such orientation may be homosexuality. My understanding of the Bill passed in the National Assembly in January 2001 is that it dealt with discrimination against persons.
Homosexuality is an affront in the eyes of God, and the Church is opposed to this practice. However, as Christian we condemn the sin and not the sinner who is capable of repentance and redemption. Wherever we find beliefs or actions, which we believe to be wrong, we should state our position with reason and above all with love. ??s Christians, we are called by the Lord to love our neighbour including our homosexual neighbours. They are our brothers and sisters, children with us of the one Father. We do not show them that we regard them as brothers and sisters if we do nothing to remove the discrimination which they undoubtedly suffer.” (Pastoral Letter, January 2001).
Concern has been expressed about the likelihood of challenges to our marriage laws should the proposed anti-discrimination provision be elevated to that of a fundamental right. It is argued that since no law can conflict with the Constitution, should the original amendment be passed it could lead to homosexuals petitioning our courts to rule that our marriage laws discriminate against them. Such a state of events, it is contended, will erode the institution of marriage. The Roman Catholic Church in Guyana is not unmindful of these criticisms and considers them legitimate for debate and dialogue.
The teachings of the Roman Catholic Church do not countenance same sex marriages and we consider such unions to be not in keeping with the will of God as revealed in Sacred Scriptures. We do believe that God is the author of marriage in which a man and a woman ‘are no longer two but one.’ We believe that the act of sexual intercourse is the highest expression of that unity. We hold that the intimate sexual act should only be exercised between a man and a woman. Further, we believe that all Christians are called to actively promote the values of marriage and the family among people of every race and religion and sexual orientation. (Pastoral Letter, January 2001). However, discriminating against any person does not help our support for marriage and his family. It is not sufficient to merely refrain from active discrimination. We have to show others that we love and respect them as persons. The Church is therefore opposed to discrimination based on sexual orientation and supports legislation intended to enshrine this as a fundamental right.
Most fundamental rights are not absolute. Most rights have restrictions based on concern for public order, safety, national security, respect for the rights of others, the rule of law and moral values. For example, the right of freedom of association is restricted in that such association cannot be deemed legitimate is used to instigate terror.
In the case of the proposed amendment, it has been argued by the Guyana Human Rights Association that Article 149 (3) of our Constitution preserves our laws relating to marriage, from the influence of Article 149 (2) in which the amendment is to be located. This is a legal issue with which our legislations will have to concern themselves. But certainly we do feel that this within the capabilities of our legal drafters to arrive at a wording for an amendment which would prohibit discrimination on this basis of sexual orientation while at the same time ensuring that such a provision is not in conflict with our marriage laws.