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Jamaican daily deems marriage provision an ‘assault’ on equality

Editorial follows former PM’s call for understanding in buggery law debate

Former Jamaican prime minister PJ Patterson recently called for a more constructive discussion about the country’s buggery law. Credit: jayblessed.com

In a June 5 editorial, The Jamaica Gleaner criticized the marriage provision contained in the country’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, saying it is “an assault” on people’s right to equal protection under the law and their right to form relationships, “especially when the exercise of those rights does not impinge on the rights of others.” 

The editorial says, in part, “It is a provision that has its foundation in a deep-seated, if slowly receding, homophobia that has caused us to maintain the buggery provisions, which, essentially, criminalise male homosexuality and allows the State the role of commissar of sexual preferences and to invade the privacy of people’s bedrooms. It matters nought that the power is little used; its existence is chilling.”

The piece highlights the hypocrisy of maintaining a gay marriage prohibition while pointing out the declining popularity of heterosexual marriage — almost 70 percent of Jamaicans over 16 never marry — as well as the rise in the number of divorces.

“We draw attention to these statistics neither to ridicule nor undermine marriage, for this newspaper appreciates its potential as an institution of social stability and respect its centrality to Christian and other religious ideologies. But by taking the marriage to its contractual core, it bares the persistence of hypocritical and anachronistic attitudes that perpetuate discrimination.”

According to The Gleaner, gay couples could give marriage “a shot in the arm.”

The Gleaner’s editorial follows recent remarks from former prime minister PJ Patterson, who called for a more constructive discussion about Jamaica’s buggery law.

“It’s an issue, I know, where people have very strong positions, but we have to find a way of moving away from polarized positions into one that accepts that differences of race or colour, differences of class, [and] differences even in terms of sexual preferences may have to be addressed in conformity with the prevailing global environment in which we live,” Patterson says. 

After raising the possibility of a review of the country’s buggery law during a 2011 televised election debate, Jamaica’s current prime minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, declined to give media a specific time frame for addressing the issue.

“I can’t tell you when, because you are going to hold me [to it] if I give you a time line. We are so busy trying to hold things and to see . . . whatever decisions we take — because we have to take tough decisions — that it doesn’t impact in a very serious way the majority of our people,” she said in April.