News Editorial: Decriminalizing Alternative Lifestyles

Ralph Ramkarran

More than fifty years ago the United Kingdom gave recognition to a reality that had existed for
centuries or even millennia. It decriminalized homosexual acts by repealing legislation which
made these acts illegal by providing that consenting adults are not guilty for such acts done in
private. Such legislation, inherited from our colonial masters, who repealed them fifty years ago,
is still on our books.

President Obama has now announced support for marriage between persons of the same sex.
It was big news in the United States. The idea was not new because several states in the US,
including New York, had already changed their laws to allow same sex marriage. But it is the
first time a President has endorsed same sex marriage. It is likely to be a controversial campaign
issue in the US elections in November because social conservatism is strong in the US. But
President Obama must have felt politically safe in coming out in support of same sex marriage
because, despite conservative opposition, the issue has attracted the support of a majority of

In Guyana a march was held recently, sponsored by SASOD, to activate support for the abolition
of discriminatory laws against homosexuals. These laws are archaic and should no longer be on
our statute books. Homosexuality and lesbianism are now recognized as alternative lifestyles
and people should be free to conduct themselves as they see fit providing they do not harm
others. This is what they have been doing in developed countries. While the fact that
discriminatory laws have been repealed fifty and more years ago and rights for the LGBT
(lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders) community have been given increased recognition
and protection in developed countries ought to be no inspiration for us, nevertheless the time
has come for us to consider at least the repeal of archaic and discriminatory laws.

Homosexuality and lesbianism are as normal to the adherents of this lifestyle as heterosexuality
is normal for the majority of people who are practicing heterosexuals. They do not see
themselves as ‘ill’ or as having a ‘condition’ that ought to be ‘cured’ by counseling or some
other similar means. There are homosexuals and lesbians of every age, every race, every
religion and every political opinion. They are normal, regular people who would, like all of us,
like to live their lives in peace and harmony with themselves and the rest of the world. Our
society does not permit them to ‘come out’ and say so. I therefore say these things on their
behalf, assuming even if arrogantly, that I have their permission to do so.

The continuation of discriminatory practices harms our society and criminalises people in our
midst who chose to live differently from the majority but nevertheless make as good a
contribution to society as anyone else. It is time to bring this matter from out of the shadows.

Unfortunately Guyana and the rest of our Caribbean societies are deeply conservative on social
issues. But I am not going as far on this occasion as asking for approval of same sex marriage.
While I support it, I hardly believe that either our people or our Government, and indeed even

our Opposition, will want to accommodate that issue at this time. Not that I believe that there
is anything close to majority support for it. Also, it is hardly likely that much support would be
forthcoming any time soon from the public for the repeal of legislation which is discriminatory
and archaic. The march attracted only six people.

Our recent experience during the constitutional reform process demonstrates the depth of
conservative opinion on these matters. A proposal to include an article in the constitution
against discrimination based on sexual orientation was proposed, accepted and unanimously
passed in the National Assembly. Only after it was passed that some churches picked up on it. A
crescendo of opposition then developed. The President, no doubt influenced by this opposition,
did not sign it into law. It was returned to the National Assembly for debate.

Both Government and Opposition, in weak kneed genuflection to so called popular opinion,
changed their positions and voted against the measure. These groups merely reflected the
prevailing mood of hostility to any kind of liberal view of these matters even though whether or
not the measure was in place would have mattered little. In Canada the Supreme Court upheld
the right of two men to get married on the basis of provisions in its Bill of Rights which are very
much similar to our fundamental rights provisions. If our courts were to follow the Canadian
Supreme Court then it would hold that two persons of the same sex have the right to get

Having regard to this situation it is incumbent on the Government and Opposition to boldly lead
public opinion in this matter. Our society should be liberal in outlook and socially progressive in
character. We must lead the way in the Caribbean region and lead the way in dispensing with
the outdated notion that heterosexuality is the basic premise of masculinity for the male and
femininity for the woman Negative social attitudes should be combated even if they are
popular. And where conditions exist making it is possible to do so, as in Guyana, it ought to be

Discrimination has no place in Guyana. The LGBT community is crying out for recognition and
an end to ridicule, violence and discrimination.

The American actor, Sean Penn, once told a story of his visit with Fidel Castro. He had his young
children with him. His young daughter was particularly peeved at the homophobia that existed
in Cuba. Fidel had figured that something was troubling her. When it was her turn to speak he
turned to her and asked perceptively: “Now what is troubling you young lady.” She explained
her concern. He pointed out that the Cuban Administration was not homophobic, nor did it
encourage homophobia, but that homophobia existed long before the Revolution. He admitted
that the Administration erred in not doing anything about it earlier but that they intended to
correct their position. So should Guyana.
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