Should the buggery law be repealed?
Some years ago when the present political administration took office, the air was pregnant with expectation that there would be a debate, at least, in Parliament on the buggery law, which makes it a criminal offence to commit what the Offences Against the Person Act, 1864 (the statute that created the offence) describes as the "abominable crime" of buggery.
When the 1864 legislation was drafted, buggery - sexual intercourse between two men - was seen as unnatural and was equated with bestiality. However, for millions of people today, homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. The crime of buggery, if proved, will attract a sentence of 10 years' imprisonment, while those who attempt it will face prison time of up to seven years.
Chief among those who opposed the repeal of this law are our churches and some other special-interest groups. The church is of the view that homosexuality is a sin similar to the kinds of sins that were rampant in Sodom and Gomorrah. Still others say that these unions cannot produce children, and so is against the order of God and of nature.
Another issue of concern for those opposing the repeal of the buggery law is whether, by repealing the law, it will impact the definition of marriage as laid down in the celebrated case of Hyde v Hyde of 1866, when Lord Penzance, in stating the classic legal definition of marriage, opined: "I conceive that marriage, as understood in Christendom, may be for this purpose be defined as the
voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all
On the other hand, proponents of homosexuality argue that it is in breach of their human rights to be deprived of the right to enjoy this kind of association. They also say that homosexuality does not harm anyone, consenting adults should do as they wish in privacy, morality should not be legislated and, among other things, they say that those who oppose it are intolerant and narrow-minded.
Given that Jamaica is heavily dependent on foreign aid from countries that have long abolished the buggery laws, and some of whom have even legalised same-sex marriages, it is only a matter of time that financial assistance from those countries will be tied to reform of our domestic law. In this regard, it might be best for our Parliament to be proactive than to have the donors dictate the course of action, as they have obviously done with a number of our domestic legislations in recent years. Parliament should therefore, at least, have a conscience vote on the buggery law.
We must never be afraid to discuss the tough issues, even those issues that might divide us. At the same time, in doing so, we must never lose sight of the issues that can unite us. In the same way that we have confronted such issues relating to the possession and use of ganja, scamming, terrorism, human trafficking, among others, so it is that we should be ready and willing to boldly examine the buggery law and to lay to rest the long-standing street-side debate as to whether or not it should be retained on the law books. These issues must be confronted, debated and decisions taken in the best interest of our country by those who govern. So, Parliament, let this debate begin!