The debate on decriminalising homosexuality – conscience vote, not party affiliation

Published: December 18, 2012

Decriminalising homosexuality is a heated debate today all around the world. Recently, two distinguished Guyanese: Sir Shridath Ramphal, a former minister of foreign affairs and former secretary general of the Commonwealth and Ralph Ramkarran, former Speaker of the National Assembly, argued that Guyana and the Caribbean should decriminalise homosexuality.

Guyana’s National Assembly by motion also established a special select committee to address this question. This was a bold move by the National Assembly, since this is a provocative and emotional issue that is deeply polarising in all of the Caricom countries.

The United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) has mandated Guyana to adjust its laws in relation to corporal punishment in schools, the death penalty for crimes, and laws against homosexuality and to bring them in compliance with the human rights guidelines. The move to allow a special select committee to address these issues in our Parliament is as a result of the guidance from the UNHRC.

Times Notebook recently came out in support of the banning of corporal punishment in our schools. Times Notebook is also against the death penalty. We believe that the debate on the decriminalisation of homosexuality will be highly emotive. We believe that the position of Sir Shridath and Ralph Ramkarr an to decriminalise homosexuality is brave and reasonable and is consistent with the 2009 United Nations Resolution to decriminalise homosexuality. The USA and 66 other countries supported the UN Resolution.

Recently, a South African pastor warned Jamaicans not to go down the road to decriminalise homosexuality. In Uganda, lawmakers want to subject homosexuals to the death penalty. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe vilifies gays, lesbians, and transgender as “unbiblical” and “worse than dogs”. His characterisation of homosexuality is shared by many African leaders.

The debate relating to decriminalisation of homosexuality is not new. The Old Testament and Islam forbid sex between men. Plato who lived up to 327 years before Christ rejected homosexuality. But Aristotle who died in 322BC defended homosexuality. The Netherlands, France, and other countries with legal systems based on France’s Napoleonic code, however, removed “homosexual offences” from criminal sanctions centuries ago. Other countries in Europe also were early in decriminalising homosexuality. These include Poland (1932), Denmark (1933), and Sweden (1944).

But England, Wales and Canada decriminalised homosexuality only in 1967. Scotland did not decriminalise homosexuality until 1980. It took a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2003 before all State Statutes decriminalised homosexuality in the USA. Nicaragua abolished the crime of “sodomy” in November 2007.

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