The plain truth about the buggery lawMonday, July 31, 2017
The country is once again embroiled in a debate over whether Jamaica should remove buggery from the list of offences known to our criminal law. Let me make it clear, I am not against debate. Also, I have no issue against the LGBTQ community as people, nor do I have an attitude of condemnation towards them. I love and embrace them, as I do all people. No one in the country has any greater care or commitment to love and serve individuals whose lifestyle is less than the society considers honourable, and I have the scars to prove it.
So, nuh badda wid the argument that my position is against LGBTQ persons. No, the position is against a lifestyle that is wrong and abnormal and must be seen and treated as such, like any other transgression mentioned in scripture, regardless of who commits it — friend, family, believer, unbeliever, clergy, or laity.
However, given a number of recent actions both in the courts and in the Parliament to review this issue, one must ask the question: Why does this particular debate keep emerging?
Every opinion poll taken in Jamaica finds that over 90 per cent of the population does not want to see a change in the law. The discussion has taken on what may appear to be a more urgent tone given the current review of the Sexual Offences Act.
Let us reason together:
I feel constrained to bring a perspective to the discussion that some others appear to have forgotten, if they ever knew it. Let us reason it out from 'first principles'. There is currently a law in effect in Jamaica. What is commonly called “the buggery law” is really a combination of the common law (which defines buggery) and a provision in the Offences Against the Person Act (which provides a penalty for persons found guilty of buggery). Since the discussion that's currently being held is one that is seeking to make a change to the law, the question that must be answered is: What is the compelling reason to change the law which we have had for more than 150 years?
I suggest that an appropriate way to frame this discussion is to ask and answer the following questions as well:
1. What is the harm that is being done by the current law?
2. What are the benefits of the current law?
3. What new 'mischief' would a new law or amendment address?
We must reason that Parliament — even the English Parliament of 1864 — is presumed to be rational and reasonable in its actions, therefore there were valid and rational reasons for the law in the first place. If so, has anything changed?
The groups that lobby for the change in the law broadly posit that the harms caused by the law are discrimination, difficulty in receiving appropriate medical care and health services, and stigma that a criminal penalty attaches to the act of buggery.
Does the buggery law discriminate?
Let's examine these. The argument is advanced that the law discriminates against homosexuals. The law, of course, says nothing about homosexuals, but since anal penetration is one of the main activities associated with the homosexual lifestyle, men who sleep with men are technically the ones most likely to be charged with the offence of buggery.
Many have sought to make this a discussion about what consenting adults do “in the privacy of their bedrooms”, but in practice the law is not applied in this way, but rather to those instances where a person, whether male or female, has been violated. Should this protection be removed? Some 90 per cent of us don't think so!
The second argument is that the law prevents homosexual men from seeking or receiving appropriate medical treatment, thereby increasing the risks associated with sexually transmitted diseases. On the surface this seems to be a legitimate concern. That would have been true even 10-15 years ago. But attitudes have shifted in Jamaica and the openly antagonistic behaviours of the past have greatly reduced and we can continue to make progress in this regard.
However, when one looks at the evidence from the jurisdictions in which buggery has already been decriminalised, there has not been a corresponding decrease in HIV infection rates. In fact, those rates have been increasing. Studies also show that people engaging in anal intercourse are 18 times more likely to become infected with sexually transmitted diseases. It seems that the removal of the legal prohibition puts more people at risk.
Finally, the argument is advanced that the criminal law preserves a stigma associated with the homosexual lifestyle. Stigma will come with all behaviours that are abnormal and negative in a society of standards shared by the majority. Stigma is one of the ways that societies control unacceptable behaviour. Should we also say that there should be no stigma associated with robbery or murder, shooting or rape? Should we chop down every shame tree out there and allow a free for all? Human 'feelings' are notoriously unreliable and cannot form a rational basis for how we order our society.
What's the purpose of the current law?
We must also ask what benefits are to be derived from maintaining the status quo and whether there are any benefits to change. The society must have standards of behaviour which it defines as acceptable. Likewise, there must be standards as to what is not acceptable. There's nothing wrong with that.
And yet, it appears that even some of our clergy are venturing down this road of secular humanism. Some even call themselves 'thinking theologians', as though people who disagree with them do not also think or, worse, if you believe that the God of the universe and His holy word are the final authority on all matters of life and conduct. Many of our theologians must think themselves wiser than God.
Free Up Buggery? No, Bishop! No, President
Two Sundays ago The Gleaner headline blared 'Free up buggery — Leader breaks ranks with many Christian colleagues' in reference to Bishop Howard Gregory, Anglican lord bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. Bishop Gregory's position is not a new position, nor is it breaking ranks with the church. The church, in general, has held to the retention of the buggery law. His position is, however, representative of the long-standing position of many member churches of the Jamaica Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, who represent the older denominations.
They have always been absent locally from any biblical church response that has objected to tampering with the buggery law. In Bishop Gregory's own North American sister diocese, some churches have withdrawn from the authority of the North American Diocese and placed themselves under the authority of the African church because of the support by the North American Diocese for the removal of buggery laws.
Rev Garnett Roper, the president of the Jamaica Theological Seminary (JTS), has also been in the public sphere espousing a position that is contrary to scripture. The question must be asked whether this is the position of the JTS generally, and of the denominations that are a part of JTS?
Many of our local churches are sending their future pastors and leaders to be trained at JTS. Is this what we should expect of the new generation of church leaders — that we should abandon the clear teachings of the Bible in favour of the personal viewpoints of a minority and humanistic theological reasonings?
The positions advanced by both Bishop Gregory and Rev Roper are not Bible-based. These clergymen show no clear commitment to the God about whom they have studied. They do not appear to have a Biblical world view, and neither do they treat the scriptures as authoritative.
The slippery slope
What is the real issue that some have with the buggery law? The Mosaic law speaks to anal sex as an abomination; as an abnormal act in the same category as bestiality. It does not define it as a sex act, but rather as a crime against the person. Not calling it a 'sex act' makes it difficult to promote it as a normal alternative lifestyle.
This is the real reason the LGBT community is fighting for its removal: If it is removed then buggery and homosexuality become, in law, solely a sex act, which is acceptable as a normal alternative. If it is so accepted, then it must be taught in our schools as acceptable. Then neither the Church nor anyone else can speak of it as wrong or as a practice to be discouraged without the threat of prosecution, as is happening in many countries presently. So, if the buggery law is removed, 90 per cent of us could potentially become criminals just because we speak out against the practice of buggery.
If it is removed and reclassification is allowed, then gay marriage becomes right and legal. The open display of the lifestyle will be thrown in our faces; before our children, taught and encouraged to follow that path.
All the talk about the law denying rights and inhibiting freedom for treatment is a deception. All the issues of rights were satisfactorily covered in the Bill of Rights in 2011. This was done by our Government and agreed to by both sides of the House, including strong sympathisers with the gay movement in order to protect the individual rights of all.
Despite the fact that rights have been assured, increasing pressure is still being applied. Some would say that all that is wanted is equal protection under the law. However, the fallacy of this argument can be established by simply reviewing the recent history of many Western democracies, where the rights of sexual politics have become the highest good so that all other human rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion and parental rights, are now subservient to these emerging new sexual rights.
So why does this issue keep coming back? Because it is not merely about rights, it is about getting the behaviour to be accepted as right and normal. The law and our constitution are the only factors to prevent total freedom to proceed as indicated above, hence the reason for the avalanche of pressure for repeal.
There are those who say that we should ignore what has happened in other countries and that there is no relationship between the removal of the buggery law and the introduction of gay marriage. Those who say such things are telling us to be wilfully blind to the experience of these influential countries. Where the laws have been changed these countries have moved progressively to the point where all opposition to the gay agenda becomes labelled as 'hate' and may be liable to be punished by law. Other constitutionally guaranteed rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom of conscience, are subjected to the 'right' of personal sexual autonomy.
Many people, including Christians, would never have had a problem with the removal of the buggery law if they had not clearly seen what this has led to in countries in northern Europe, Germany, Belgium, the UK, Canada, and the USA. What is increasingly clear is that where there are no limit to personal sexual autonomy; the personal desires of specialist groups are driving laws which affect education (primary and above) and health, and these laws are reordering society in a way in which no civilisation prior to ours has survived.
We agree with the prime minister that the removal of the buggery law ought not to be a priority as the benefits of its retention ought to be obvious based on the experiences of the other countries mentioned before. The matter is not one of private, individual choice, but is the launching pad for the changing of laws and thereby the reordering of society.
In addition, let me remind Bishop Gregory of the facts concerning the Government's interest in what happens in people's bedrooms. I quote from a good friend of mine, Dr Wayne West: “As to the Bishop's assertion that the State should not be 'peeping into people's bedrooms', he should first be aware that the State is already in the bedroom whether someone is peeping legally or not. One is not allowed to sleep with one's siblings, mother, father, or the family pet. The reason that the State is in the bedroom in these instances is because these behaviours do not advance health or the public good and put children at risk.
No society can long survive without clearly defined and accepted moral underpinnings. A society must decide what those shared standards must be or else the selfish will rob and trample upon the rights of the rest. The majority must have the chief say in what those standards should be.
Do not be deceived!
The gay lobby has proved itself very adept at shaping public opinion in many countries with illogical and deceptive arguments. But let us here in Jamaica hold true to our values and live love at every opportunity. We can love everyone without having to agree that every behavioural choice is healthy and appropriate for us and should be normalised. To tamper with the law is to remove the gate and release floodwaters that can destroy everything in their path. Sodom is a reminder to us of the consequences. Give rights and respect to all, but do not trouble the gate!
Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or email@example.com.