GOVERNMENT is about to start a review of the Sexual Offences Act, which is likely to affect other legislation and raise questions about how the Buggery Act will be treated in the process.
Gordon House announced yesterday that a joint select committee of Parliament will begin taking form in the Senate today to review the Sexual Offences Act and "other pieces of legislation which protect special groups".
Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding told the Jamaica Observer last night that although it is very likely that issues such as the buggery law will be highlighted during the discussions, the intention is not to introduce changes to the buggery law through the back door.
"There is a provision for reviewing the Sexual Offences Act every five years, and the Act was promulgated in 2009," Senator Golding explained.
He said that it was always his intention to have the review started this year. He added that when Opposition Senator Kamina Johnson Smith’s motion, seeking to have the legislation covering sexual offences against women and children was passed by the Senate recently, he was convinced that it was the right time to do the review required under the law.
But the minister acknowledged that since the review would be open to public submission it is likely that issues like repealing the buggery law, as well as the treatment of what he called "sexual minorities", including lesbian, gay, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBTs), would dominate much of the deliberations.
Golding said that he expects that issues such as the common approach to sexual deviance in the region, and its effect on public health programmes, including HIV/AIDS, and laws, such as the buggery provisions which are considered by some groups to be hampering efforts to deal effectively with these diseases, would be highlighted during the review.
Announcement of the formation of the joint select committee, which starts today with the appointment of members of the Senate to the committee and is likely to be completed next week when the House of Representatives meets, follows a number of contrasting developments in the debate over the issue of homosexuality in the region, fuelled by the recent dismissal of University of the West Indies (UWI) Professor Brendan Bain.
The UWI said it sacked Bain because he had lost the confidence of the gay community and other rights groups and would be constrained in continuing to lead the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Network.
In addition, American LGBTs staged a demonstration against Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in Pennsylvania last month when she went there to be conferred with a honorary degree by Lafayette University,
The LGBT community has often criticised Simpson Miller for failing to deliver on her 2011 election platform pledge to review the country’s buggery law.
Golding said that he would not be surprised if the contending parties use the opportunity, provided by the review, to make their cases for and against repealing the buggery legislation, but made it clear that this should not be seen as the aim of the exercise.
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness recently suggested a referendum to decide the issue, contending that a conscience vote in Parliament would not be effective.
However, concerns about the Government’s intention in holding the review at this time was heightened by statements made by Senator Golding last December. He stated that he had dialogue with representatives of the United Nations Development Programme to assist with the case for the reform of the provisions for intimacy in private among consenting consulting adults, with particular focus on public health disadvantages and the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Golding said then that in addition to reviewing the current provisions of the Act, the House committee would look at protecting the rights of all Jamaicans, including sexual minorities. However, he admitted that the majority of Jamaicans do not approve of a homosexual lifestyle and modifying the law would therefore be controversial.
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