Eyes on St Vincent as court prepares to rule on challenge to buggery laws

Saturday, November 16, 2019

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KINGSTOWN, St Vincent (CMC) — The High Court will rule on Wednesday, November 20 on whether to allow 10 churches to become a party in a challenge to the anti-buggery laws in St Vincent and the Grenadines even as lawyers for both sides expressed differing opinions on the decision by two gay nationals challenging the law.

During a pre-trial hearing, Justice Esco Henry dismissed an application by lawyers for the claimants, asking that the court adjourn the hearing of the churches' application.

Attorneys Jomo Thomas and Shirlan “Zita” Barnwell appeared for the claimants Sean MacLeish and Javin Johnson, who say the anti-buggery and gross indecency laws contravene their constitutional rights.

Under the Criminal Code, any person who commits buggery with any other person, commits buggery with an animal, or permits any person to commit buggery with him or her is guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment for 10 years.

The Criminal Code also states that any person who, whether in public or private, commits any act of gross indecency with another person of the same sex, or procures or attempts to procure another person of the same sex to commit an act of gross indecency with him or her, is guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment for five years.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Vincentians took to the streets in support of the present legislation and urged the authorities not to amend the legislation to suit the claimants.

Attorney Mandella Peters told a rally organised by the Christian churches that the lawsuit against the anti-buggery and gross indecency laws is a challenge against God.

“It's a challenge against God himself because in the essence of this challenge, we are called upon to call a wrong right and to call what is wrong permissible and allowable in the guise of human rights,” Peters said, adding that while the lawsuit is a constitutional challenge, “the essence of it, I believe it is a challenge against morality”.

Peters said that contrary to some comments, the laws are not colonial, having been enacted by an independent St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“These claimants and others who support this position would have us to believe that these are draconian, archaic laws which are just a relic of our colonial past.

“But I will ask them to do their research properly. Because when our Criminal Code was enacted in 1988, we [had] been an independent nation since 1979, England [had] repealed their buggery laws already in 1967. Yet, the independent Parliament of St Vincent and the Grenadines chose to let buggery remain on our law books.”

Peters' father, Parnell Campbell, QC, who was attorney general and minister of justice in 1988, was among those demonstrating in the streets of the capital.

Peters noted that the claimants are arguing that the buggery and gross indecency laws are unconstitutional, illegal, null, void, invalid and of no effect to the extent that these laws criminalise any consensual conduct among persons above the age of consent.

She said she believes this is because they see the legislation as a moral law. She said that outside of Christian beliefs, a case is made out against buggery.

“Even if you put the Bible aside, look at our bodies, look at our anatomy, look at our physiology, nature itself tells you that the rectum was not designed for sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse is between a male and a female and God blesses it when it is in the context of marriage.”

But Thomas, who is representing one of the men challenging the laws, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) his client will win once the case is decided on the law.

He said that the churches, under the umbrella body of the Christian Coalition, might be setting themselves up for a public relations problem, by saying they hope to bring out 20,000 persons to a march in Kingstown on Thursday.

He said the two gay men are saying, “and we agree, as counsel, that Sections 146 and 148 of the Criminal Code in St Vincent is aware of their constitutional rights to expression, to dignity, to a number of constitutional provisions we believe are violated”.

Thomas, however, said the case is not about morality.

“This is not about morality and the claims that homosexuals cause the proliferation of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases cannot be supported by science… The case should be decided on the law, it should not be decided on morality,” he told CMC.

Thomas said a number of important cases on the same or similar issues, including in Belize, Trinidad and Guyana were decided on the law.

“And we believe that once the judges approach this case from a legal standpoint and look at the plethora of decisions that have come down across the world, whether we are talking about the United States, Fiji, Australia, the United Nations Human Rights Commission, wherever we go, the court has given little regard to the issue of morality for the simple reason that these are secular states, it is not a theocracy, and, therefore, people are not bound by issues of morality and the notion that the constitution was made recognising the supremacy of God.”

Thomas said that in the decision of the Belizean Supreme Court, the judge made the point that the issue of the supremacy of God is only relevant to the extent that the state couldn't be declared an atheistic state because the preamble said it is based on the primacy and the belief in God.

“So, on legal issues, we think that we are in good standing. We don't believe that the issue of morality should play a big role. What we were concerned about going in, in terms of judicial efficiency and expediting the constitutional issues, is that we don't have the case cluttered by the churches coming in and doing the kind of emotive things that they are doing now, as you see, for example, they are projecting to have this march tomorrow and I heard that they are hoping to get like about 20,000 people to come.

“I don't know why they would want to say that because if they fall way short of that they have public relations problems. But that's where it is.”

The march and rally were held on Thursday under the theme 'Calling Our Nation to Righteousness', but Thomas said he thinks that the march by the church “really is an assault on the rights of another section of the society.

“The churches are Christian churches and the churches come from the new testament position of Jesus as love, Jesus for redemption and salvation, and for the church to call one section out of the society to demonstrate because another section of society is asking for the protection of its constitutional rights, akin – well, not akin to, but I thought Jesus Christ dealt with that fundamentally when he said he that is without sin cast the first stone,” Thomas said.

But Peters said that the legal challenge to the buggery and gross indecency laws is the first step in the “LGBTQ agenda”, which also includes same-sex marriage, the promotion of transgenderism, and an assault on Christian beliefs about sexual relations.

“Don't let them fool you. It is a hidden agenda. The LGBTQ lobby is a minority political agenda and with homosexuality, they are also promoting transgenderism so that you are a boy but if you feel that you are a girl, you are a girl or if you are a girl, if you feel like a man, you are a man,” she said.

“Changing the norms of society; bringing confusion to our children. So that is why we have to take a stand now. The same arguments that are used to promote buggery — consensual acts and privacy — those same arguments can be used, legally, to bring other things on-board, including incest and paedophilia. So we have to take a righteous stand,” Peters said.

She said that the LGBTQ agenda pushes comprehensive sexual education “robbing our children of their innocence, teaching primary school children about anal penetration, teaching that that is just another form of sexual intercourse, teaching them that they can be a boy trapped in a girl's body or a girl trapped in a boy's body.”

Peters said that once the buggery laws are removed, “what is to hold them back from teaching that anal penetration is good?

“This is not fear mongering, we are telling you this is what has happened in other jurisdictions. As soon as the buggery law is removed, believe you me, you will hear about anti-discriminatory legislation and hate crime legislation and those legislations are geared toward Christians to shut us up, to silence us so that we don't call wrong, wrong…”


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