West Indies will not bless same-sex unions, says Barbados bishop

Michael Maxwell

The Anglican Church in the West Indies will not bless same-sex unions, the Bishop of Barbados told reporters last week. Speaking to the Nation newspaper on 24 Jan 2020, the Rt. Rev. Michael Maxwell said “homosexual unions are becoming far more prevalent now, there are even some who are saying that the church is outdated because it is not seeking to recognise the same-sex unions”.

However, the Bible taught that marriage was between a man and a woman, and the church could not rewrite Scripture to accommodate the innovation. “It is not a case of us not appreciating what people are going through, nor are we saying that they are any worse than others who are heterosexuals. It is just that, based on our understanding of the Biblical scriptures, it is for a man and a woman,” the bishop said.

Same-sex marriages or the blessing of same-sex unions are not permitted under the canons of the Church of the Province of the West Indies. However, some West Indian bishops have supported moves to decriminalize sodomy.  Speaking at the Intimate Conviction Conference in Kingston on 12 Oct 2017 the Most Rev. John Holder, the then Bishop of Barbados and Archbishop of the West Indies said the account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Book of Genesis had been read through cultural eyes that were predisposed to disparage same-sex relations. 

“My argument is that using the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to support the sodomy law has no basis, none whatsoever,” Archbishop Holder told the gathering.  

Section 76 of Jamaica’s Offenses Against the Person Act of 1864 imposes a prison sentence of up to 10 years of hard labor against anyone who is convicted of “the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal.”

Prime Minister Andrew Holness said before his Jamaica Labor Party won 2016’s general election that he would call a referendum on the sodomy law. However, the government has not acted upon the pledge and there are no plans to hold a referendum at this time. Opinion polls in Jamaica indicate, however, that a supermajority of the population support the criminalization of homosexual acts.

The government of Trinidad and Tobago has appealed a 2018 ruling that declared the country’s sodomy law unconstitutional. On 30 December 2019, the Court of Appeal of Belize held Section 53 of the Criminal Code, which prohibited “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” violated the Belize Constitution’s guarantees of free expression and of freedom from discrimination on the basis of sex.

In July 2017 the Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Island, the Most Rev. Howard Gregory, the current Archbishop of the West Indies, told the Jamaica Gleaner he supported the repeal of the buggery laws. “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,” he said.

Archbishop Holder concurred with Archbishop Gregory’s view. “As soon as the word homosexuality is mentioned in biblical studies, they want to make a beeline straight to the Sodom and Gomorrah story. Here is one of the favourite hunting grounds for those who want to use the Bible to condemn homosexual behaviour and find support for the retention of the sodomy law.”

The sentiments of the archbishops do not reflect the views of most West Indian Anglicans, local clergy tell Anglican Ink, noting that any change to the church’s teachings on homosexuality was unlikely.