Church groups declare war on gay rights bill

Stabroek News

July 19, 2003

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The Georgetown Ministers Fellowship (GMF) and the Guyana Evangelical Fellow-ship (GEF) are calling on Guyanese to reject the sexual orientation bill and to withhold support from any business, organisation, parliamentarian or political party in favour of it.

At a forum held on Tuesday at the National Library, the groups distributed a document which is primarily intended to lobby parliamentarians on voting ‘no’ to the proposed ‘gay rights’ Bill set for debate next week.

In 2001, when the Bill first surfaced, President Bharrat Jagdeo after pleas from the religious community, did not assent to the amendment providing fundamental rights to homosexuals. That bill had set out a series of grounds - including sexual orientation on which no one could be discriminated against.

With a view to bringing closure to the issue, legislators have decided to treat the matter of sexual orientation as a separate piece of legislation, on which many parliamentarians will likely vote based on their personal beliefs. The other grounds in the original bill are now in a separate bill which will be considered at the same time.

The GMF/GEF document seeks to expose what it calls the real agenda behind the gay campaign by the “militant” advocates of homosexuality.

Among the issues dealt with in the document are genetics and homosexuality, social paradoxes defined by homosexuality, legal implications of sexual orientation as a fundamental right, the Bible in relation to homosexuality, help and healing for homosexuals and answers to common pro-gay arguments.

The groups believe that from a religious standpoint compassion must be shown to gay and lesbian people, but religion must not be proscribed from denouncing homosexuality.

The groups urged the politicians to promote moral and social good and to restrain homosexuality through legislative and administrative action. “I am asking [President Jagdeo] to speak to his parliamentarians. The largest constituency in Guyana is the religious constituency. [The Bill] will not be passed,” proclaimed Bishop Juan Edghill, Chairman of the Guyana Council of Churches.

Lionel Persaud, one of the members of the task force which prepared the document, made the point that legislation came to correct social ills, not to give them legitimacy. He added that the law must reflect the will and social ethos of the people.

The argument put forward at the forum was that proponents of the proposed amendments are comparing the homosexual lobby to the struggles of the civil rights movement, referring to such persons as minorities. The document points out that minority groups are defined by non-behavioural distinctions such as race, colour and national origin. According to the groups, minorities are also distinguished by economic deprivation. Homosexuality, the document states, does not conform to these criteria.

One of the main lobbying groups for the cause of the gay rights Bill, as it is referred to, is the Students Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD). This group had held a forum at the National Library on June 7 to persuade members of Parliament to support the amendment. Only two parliamentarians turned up.

Members of SASOD had made the point that the Bill did not seek to legalise homosexuality, but merely to preserve the rights of others not to be discriminated against because of their sexual preference. Spokesperson of SASOD, Joel Simpson, told Stabroek News that the group was not opposed to the idea of same sex marriages.

He said if the law granted or recognised same sex unions, the religious community did not have to recognise them because those marriages would not be done in accordance with any religious tenet. “Legally, couples of the same sex should have the right to marry, because it does not infringe on anyone’s religious freedom,” Simpson said.

He did concede, however, that it was possible that persons could use the amendment as a justification for gay and lesbian marriages.

“If society’s views on homosexuality become more liberal, then same sex couples may decide to test the [legislation on sexual orientation] to see whether the courts will grant them that right [of marriage],” Simpson explained.

He noted that the group would be contacting parliamentarians at their headquarters in an effort to win their vote. He added that the group would be making media appearances to ask people to persuade their MPs to support the amendment.