Source: Trinidad Express
Invoking biblical injunction against homosexuality, Minister in the Ministry of National Security Subhas Panday on Tuesday sought to dampen criticisms against Government's decision not to include same-sex unions in the Statutory Authorities Amendment bill.
The Senate was debating a measure which would allow the next of kin of public servants working with the Statutory Authorities to get the benefit of one month's salary on the death of the public servant.
This benefit has been enjoyed by public servants who fall under the Civil Service Act since the 1950s.
However, Independent Senators Dr James Armstrong and Corrine Baptiste-McKnight argued that in the same way the definition of next of kin was broadened to include a cohabitational spouse and a child born out of wedlock, the definition of cohabitational person should not be confined to a "person of the opposite sex".
Armstrong said this was "very antiquated". Baptiste-McKnight noted that on Monday, Valentine's Day, a lot of same-sex partners gave each other roses.
"As it (the legislation) stands you are entrenching in a day and age (something) when the laws and recognition of fact are moving in a direction which you seem to be bucking," she said.
She said the Government should have another thought for the same-sex partner as well as the situation of the unmarried, childless public servant.
Panday rose, with the question: "Would you reconcile that with Section 52 in the Book of Leviticus?"
"Section 52 in what?" Baptiste-McKnight asked.
"In the book of Leviticus," he repeated. "In the book of who?" she asked again, causing chuckles.
(The book of Leviticus in the Bible states: "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them".)
Baptiste-McKnight then said: "Let me tell you something, Leviticus is a Christian something that existed long ago. We are here today. And if you want to go back to Leviticus, there are many, many occasions on which I would take you not only to Leviticus but to the Ark. Yuh playing fast and loose, you getting into infelicitous language, don't do that with me."
Public Administration Minister Rudrawatee Nan Ramgoolam said the issue was a cultural and legal one. Culturally, it was an "evolving and sensitive issue" which "was addressing the attention of the world", she said.
Legally, she stated, she believed it (homosexuality) was illegal on this country's law books and therefore "the cart can't go before the horse. Let's get it right!" she declared to desk-thumping support from the Government bench.
She said "that issue" was "now to be discussed, bisected, stripped, the society was becoming more aware of it ... and with time and awareness, there would probably come acceptance, tolerance, whatever, which would lead to the legislative changes".
She added: "It is a cultural issue and that calls for a national intervention. That issue does not really arise here, at this point in time."
Meanwhile ......Trini Gays ask Govt for equal rights
In a telephone interview with the Express yesterday, Robinson said while they appreciate the call by Gender Affairs Minister Mary King for a national debate on same-sex marriages, it is not what they need.
"The Government isn't listening, and has its priorities wrong. We've consistently given the Government six national priorities - this was never one," he said.
"We've consistently asked for action to prevent discrimination and violence, for attention to homelessness, to make schools safe for young people, to train police. We've repeatedly asked them to listen and consult, and offered our help with building a nation for everyone but they have not heard us."
Robinson said while being able to get married would be nice, it was really "putting the cart before the horse". He said while the Government does not need to amend the Sexual Offences Act or decriminalise sexual activities to protect GLBT people from discrimination and violence, "it probably would be appropriate to decriminalise some offences of sexuality and homosexual behaviour before looking at the recognition of same-sex relationships".
In fact, according to a judgment passed by the Court of Appeal, in an appeal regarding the exclusion of sexual orientation from the Equal Opportunities Act of 2000, the Government has full responsibility to ensure protection is available from discrimination, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Robinson further argued that while political and religious leaders use religion to justify why GLBT people should not be afforded the same rights, they have nothing much to say when it comes to Carnival and the activities surrounding it.
"When it comes to women wining on the road for Carnival Tuesday, you don't hear them, and that is exactly what Senator Rudrawatee Nan Ramgoolam said (during the sitting), that we can't do this because it would offend religion. But why aren't those same concerns applied to Carnival, it's a double standard," he said.
Also contacted yesterday on the matter, Leela Ramdeen, of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ), said they support CAISO's call for freedom against discrimination and violence, but noted they do not support people acting on their homosexuality and any law that will allow that.
"So in my opinion, I don't think any debate will be helpful now. The majority of people in this country believe in one faith, and most other religions will not agree to that," she said.
Ramdeen said, according to the Roman Catholic Church, a man was meant to be with a woman.
President of the Inter-Religious Organisation, Haji Abzal Mohammed, meanwhile, said they would be in support of a national debate. He said while everyone should be able to voice their opinion, religiously the IRO's views will remain.
"If something like this is coming up, we will have to look at it ... but if God almighty made something unlawful, how can a human make it lawful?" he said.
Asked about the IRO's role in Carnival and claims by Robinson that religious leaders do not complain, Mohammed said "people just don't listen to them".
"Every year we send out statements about the activities surrounding Carnival, about the alcohol consumption, but people don't take us on," he said.