Chuck: Buggery law will only be changed by a referendum

Friday, June 16, 2017

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SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth – Justice Minister Delroy Chuck yesterday reiterated the Government's position that Jamaica's contentious buggery law will only be changed by a referendum.

However, while insisting on what he said was a personal position that homosexuality is morally “wrong”, Chuck questioned whether it was the business of the law to determine right and wrong of private sexual conduct.

“The Government's position is clear and I will repeat it, the law will not be changed, save and except by a referendum. The buggery law will never be changed unless a referendum so decides,” Chuck told justices of the peace during a training seminar at the Beadle's Hall in Santa Cruz.

Responding to what he said were questions being asked about his own position, the minister said: “Let me make it very clear, I do not believe that the anus is a sexual organ. I am against homosexuality (loud applause), quite frankly I believe it's wrong but at the same time I believe it's equally wrong for anyone to promote homophobia (hatred of homosexuals)…” he said.

He argued that people had a right to their own views and positions on issues. “…Once they do not infringe… your rights and freedoms we must respect them. In a democracy differing views must contend,” he said.

Chuck's comments came against the backdrop of harsh criticism directed at him for reportedly suggesting that the church and faith-based groups were hindering the push to repeal the centuries-old buggery law, considered by many to be a breach of basic human rights.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has said that buggery as well as other issues, such as a proposed move away from the British Privy Council to the Caribbean Court of Justice as Jamaica's highest court, will be decided by referendum.

Questioned by journalists yesterday, Chuck said the Government had no clear time frame for the proposed referendum nor was it a priority given the many problems facing the country.

“The PM has in mind referendum on several areas but I suspect that those will come towards the end of the parliamentary term because there are so many things that need to be dealt with; we are concentrating more now on economy and crime… and so matters like referendum are not really top priorities at this time,” he said.

Asked whether in fact there could be no referendum in the current term, Chuck said: “I don't know, the truth is that referendum for CCJ, to remove the Queen (as Jamaica's Head of State), to remove the buggery law and others … these are absolutely needed but I don't see it immediately,” he said.

Chuck told the JPs that while Christian churches considered homosexuality immoral, so too were premarital sex and adultery and even cigarette smoking, though such behaviour was not criminalised.

“I acknowledge that the churches, in particular, take the view that they must promote Biblical teaching… But let us face it, premarital sex is immoral, adultery is immoral and at one time those were criminalised. I don't think that the Church would now ask that they be criminalised,” he said.

“Buggery I say is wrong but where do we draw the line in private morality. Is it the business of the law to peep in people's bedroom and say what they are doing in the privacy of their bedroom is wrong?” Chuck asked.

“… The Church of which I am a part must lead in love and compassion. We might disagree and condemn certain lifestyles, but bigotry, discrimination and the denial of human and social rights must be rejected … democracy deserves more, Jamaica is better than that,” he said.

— Garfield Myers

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