Church group sends strong message to sex Bills committee

Church group sends strong message to sex Bills committee

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter

Thursday, October 16, 2014

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A powerful church group, backed by a gallery filled with supporters, yesterday sent a strong message to the joint select committee reviewing the sexual offences legislation that it will not support changes to current buggery provisions.

Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society's (JCHS) spokeswoman Phillippa Davies urged Jamaicans to work towards the ideal, and not lower their standards because other Caribbean countries may lower theirs.

The submission from the church group, which includes members of the Seventh-day and Pentecostal communities, insisted that "healthy and safe families, with marriage between a man and a woman at the centre, can singularly and significantly address the concerns about care and protection of children, the elderly and disabled, and reduce domestic, sexual, and other forms of societal violence".

However, it was Opposition member of the committee, Marisa Dalrymple- Philibert (Southern Trelawny), who stirred the Christians seated in the gallery when she maintained that "homosexuality and Christianity are irreconcilable".

She said that people, therefore, had to make their choices, but the Parliament must be on the side of the majority of the people.

The approval of her statement from the gallery forced chairman of the committee, Senator Mark Golding, to warn the visitors against participating in the proceedings, after which things settled down for the remaining three hours of the sitting.

The JCHS raised concerns about penalties for a number of breaches of the legislation, including forced anal penetration, for which they felt that maximum sentences were too low.

"The issue arises because any alteration to the present buggery law makes it vulnerable to successful constitutional challenges. As representatives of the people in our democracy, the committee must bear in mind that the majority of the Jamaican public desire to keep this law in its current form," she stated.

She said that, to effectively reconcile views, the committee has to do so within a philosophical framework consistent with the moral preferences of the Jamaican public. And once the overarching philosophical question is resolved, the sentencing differences can be more effectively addressed.

The JCHS wants the provisions of the laws pertaining to both prostitution and buggery to be retained. But, a collective civil society submission presented by Woman Inc, which also represented the views of the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVCC) and the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) at Mona wants to change the provisions, including the definition of sexual intercourse in the Offences Against the Person Act.

The submission, presented by spokesperson Teneshia Myri, said that they were concerned about the limited definition of sexual intercourse in the Sexual Offences Act.

"Sexual intercourse is defined as 'the penetration of the vagina of one person by the penis of another person'. The consequences of this definition is that only women and girls are protected from some forms of sexual violence," the collective said.

"We submit that the definition of sexual intercourse should be extended to include penetration of the mouth or anus by a penis and penetration of the vagina and anus by an object, except where the penetration is carried out for proper medical purposes," they stated.

They said that this approach has been adopted in various jurisdictions, including in neighbouring Caribbean countries.

The Woman Inc-led group said that the language of the sexual offences legislation should also be made gender neutral.

"In our Sexual Offences Act there is limited protection for men and boys who are victims of various forms of sexual violence," the group said, pointing out that it implies that "rape" against males is "somehow less heinous" than the rape of girls or women and, in so doing, creates "a fallacious and discriminatory distinction between genders".

In its submission, the Sistren Theatre Collective also supported amending the definition of rape in the legislation to make it gender neutral, with both males and females recognised as offenders and victims.

The committee will meet again on October 29 at Gordon House.

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