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Bishop lobbies parliament to strike down Jamaica’s sodomy laws

Bishop Howard Gregory calls for revamp of Sexual Offences Act including criminalizing marital rape and decriminalizing “buggery”

In a written submission given to a parliamentary committee in Kingston, the Bishop of Jamaica has urged the government to amend the Sexual Offences Act to decriminalize sodomy and strengthen laws against marital rape. The Rt. Rev. Howard Gregory stated he was speaking on his own behalf, and not on behalf of the diocese or Church of the Province of the West Indies, however, his recommendations have prompted a flurry of protests from other Christian leaders in Jamaica and condemnation in the press.

In his submission given to parliament, extracts of which were printed on 23 July 2017 by the Sunday Gleaner, Bishop Gregory wrote:: “Sexual activity engaged in public spaces is illegal and should continue to be so, whether of an heterosexual or homosexual nature. Beyond that “what happens in privacy between consenting adults should be beyond the purview of the Government.”

Section 61 of the Offences against the Person Act of 1864 outlaws sodomy as a crime against nature, with penalties of up to ten years imprisonment. Prosecutions under the Sodomy laws have not been brought for over a generation, however, Jamaican society holds traditional views on sexual ethics and has a low regard for homosexual activity.  A 2014 poll conducted by the Daily Gleaner found 9 out of 10 Jamaicans were in favor of keeping the law unchanged.

In his successful campaign for election in 2016, Prime Minister Andrew Holness promised to place placing the issue before voters in a national referendum, which would likely result in the law being kept on the books. Bishop Gregory has urged the government to skip the referendum and strike down the law. “The promise of a referendum on the issue is at best a way in which those responsible for governance are postponing the issue in order to avoid taking controversial decisions,”  the bishop said. No referendum has yet been scheduled.

The bishop further advised parliament to toughen laws on marital rape. Non-consensual sexual relations between husband and wife can rise to rape under Jamaican law if the couple are separated. “Non-consensual sex accompanied by threat, intimidation and violence ought to be characterised as rape,” he noted, adding that “even without reaching the point of physical separation or abuse” non-consensual sex between husband and wife can be rape.

Bishop Gregory supported his position by reference to the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He quoted the German theologian, executed by the Nazis in 1945, writing the aim of the Church is not “that the authorities make Christian policies, Christian laws and so on, but that they be proper authorities in the sense of their special commission”.

In an editorial published by the Gleaner, the newspaper’s editor concluded that the logic of the bishop’s position was that if gay sex were legalized, gay marriage would shortly follow thereafter.

“Bishop Gregory did not advocate for same-sex marriage and nothing in his submission is a natural progression thereto, as the fundamentalists will claim. The definition in the Constitution of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, however, undermines other fundamental rights guaranteed by the supreme law. For it eliminates the freedom of one group of citizens, gay people, to express love for each other through the institution of marriage.”

The Rev. Peter Espeut, a Roman Catholic deacon, criticized the bishop’s arguments, saying his citation of Dietrich Bonhoeffer was perverse and ahistorical.

“Since political Independence in 1962, the Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC) has lobbied the Jamaican Government on issues like political violence, electoral fraud, and the promotion of a freeness mentality. Is Bishop Gregory repudiating the history of the JCC? Is Bishop Gregory saying that the Church must not lobby the government about issues of morality and immorality she considers important? Must the prayer breakfasts, therefore, be discontinued

“No, Bishop Gregory. The Church must not return to the days before she became the social conscience of the nation. LGBT persons must be loved and welcomed into our churches, for all of us are sinners. But even though we love the sinner, we hate the sin. The Church must not deny her mandate by loving and accepting the sin,” he argued.

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