More than fifty years ago the United Kingdom gave recognition to a reality that had existed for centuries or even millennia. It decriminalized homosexual acts by repealing legislation which made these acts illegal by providing that consenting adults are not guilty for such acts done in private. Such legislation, inherited from our colonial masters, who repealed them fifty years ago, is still on our books.
President Obama has now announced support for marriage between persons of the same sex. It was big news in the United States. The idea was not new because several states in the US, including New York, had already changed their laws to allow same sex marriage. But it is the first time a President has endorsed same sex marriage. It is likely to be a controversial campaign issue in the US elections in November because social conservatism is strong in the US. But President Obama must have felt politically safe in coming out in support of same sex marriage because, despite conservative opposition, the issue has attracted the support of a majority of Americans.
In Guyana a march was held recently, sponsored by SASOD, to activate support for the abolition of discriminatory laws against homosexuals. These laws are archaic and should no longer be on our statute books. Homosexuality and lesbianism are now recognized as alternative lifestyles and people should be free to conduct themselves as they see fit providing they do not harm others. This is what they have been doing in developed countries. While the fact that discriminatory laws have been repealed fifty and more years ago and rights for the LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders) community have been given increased recognition and protection in developed countries ought to be no inspiration for us, nevertheless the time has come for us to consider at least the repeal of archaic and discriminatory laws.
Homosexuality and lesbianism are as normal to the adherents of this lifestyle as heterosexuality is normal for the majority of people who are practicing heterosexuals. They do not see themselves as ‘ill’ or as having a ‘condition’ that ought to be ‘cured’ by counseling or some other similar means. There are homosexuals and lesbians of every age, every race, every religion and every political opinion. They are normal, regular people who would, like all of us, like to live their lives in peace and harmony with themselves and the rest of the world. Our society does not permit them to ‘come out’ and say so. I therefore say these things on their behalf, assuming even if arrogantly, that I have their permission to do so.
The continuation of discriminatory practices harms our society and criminalises people in our midst who chose to live differently from the majority but nevertheless make as good a contribution to society as anyone else. It is time to bring this matter from out of the shadows.
Unfortunately Guyana and the rest of our Caribbean societies are deeply conservative on social issues. But I am not going as far on this occasion as asking for approval of same sex marriage. While I support it, I hardly believe that either our people or our Government, and indeed even our Opposition, will want to accommodate that issue at this time. Not that I believe that there is anything close to majority support for it. Also, it is hardly likely that much support would be forthcoming any time soon from the public for the repeal of legislation which is discriminatory and archaic. The march attracted only six people.
Our recent experience during the constitutional reform process demonstrates the depth of conservative opinion on these matters. A proposal to include an article in the constitution against discrimination based on sexual orientation was proposed, accepted and unanimously passed in the National Assembly. Only after it was passed that some churches picked up on it. A crescendo of opposition then developed. The President, no doubt influenced by this opposition, did not sign it into law. It was returned to the National Assembly for debate.
Both Government and Opposition, in weak kneed genuflection to so called popular opinion, changed their positions and voted against the measure. These groups merely reflected the prevailing mood of hostility to any kind of liberal view of these matters even though whether or not the measure was in place would have mattered little. In Canada the Supreme Court upheld the right of two men to get married on the basis of provisions in its Bill of Rights which are very much similar to our fundamental rights provisions. If our courts were to follow the Canadian Supreme Court then it would hold that two persons of the same sex have the right to get married.
Having regard to this situation it is incumbent on the Government and Opposition to boldly lead public opinion in this matter. Our society should be liberal in outlook and socially progressive in character. We must lead the way in the Caribbean region and lead the way in dispensing with the outdated notion that heterosexuality is the basic premise of masculinity for the male and femininity for the woman Negative social attitudes should be combated even if they are popular. And where conditions exist making it is possible to do so, as in Guyana, it ought to be done.
Discrimination has no place in Guyana. The LGBT community is crying out for recognition and an end to ridicule, violence and discrimination.
The American actor, Sean Penn, once told a story of his visit with Fidel Castro. He had his young children with him. His young daughter was particularly peeved at the homophobia that existed in Cuba. Fidel had figured that something was troubling her. When it was her turn to speak he turned to her and asked perceptively: “Now what is troubling you young lady.” She explained her concern. He pointed out that the Cuban Administration was not homophobic, nor did it encourage homophobia, but that homophobia existed long before the Revolution. He admitted that the Administration erred in not doing anything about it earlier but that they intended to correct their position. So should Guyana.