The struggle between Christians and gay-rights activists over the buggery law is more political than practical. Its repeal or retention is more symbolic than salutary.
Gay people are freely engaging in anal sex and are not worried in the least about police knocking down their doors to arrest them. Nobody is going to report them to the police if they buy their condoms or lubricants. And this argument that gay men are effectively denied health services and hence are vulnerable to HIV infection because of the buggery law seems transparently absurd to me. It is not the existence of the buggery law that prevents gay men from visiting clinics. If any gay man is intimidated to reveal his status, that reluctance has more to do with stigmatisation, prejudice and discrimination - which would remain even if the buggery law were repealed. Once our culture remains heavily influenced by fundamentalist Christianity, that stigma towards homosexuality will remain, whatever happens legally.
Changing the buggery law would be a political victory for gays, yes, and would signal some softening of attitudes towards homosexuality in 'society circles', but on the ground, once you can't eradicate conservative religious ideas about homosexuality, you are going to have stigma, exclusion and non-acceptance. Apartheid was law in South Africa but despised by the black masses of South Africa, just as slavery was law in the British West Indies but revolted against by the enslaved. We know from our history as black people that laws don't equate to popular acceptance. So the repeal of the buggery law would be political and symbolic. That's all.
On the other hand, Christian arguments for the retention of the buggery law are largely political, not philosophical or principled. Christians don't argue on the basis of the merits of the buggery law per se. Their arguments represent either slippery slope reasoning ('this will lead to that') or fear ('This will strengthen the gay lobby agenda', clearly giving them a political victory en route to full legalisation). They can't argue the virtue of the buggery law in itself. Something is just wrong with that philosophically.
Retaining the buggery law can't be justified simply because its repeal could possibly lead to certain consequences. Veronica Evelyn, writing inIn Focus on July 13 in an article titled, revealingly, 'Connect the dots: same-sex marriage and the decriminalisation of buggery', says: "The decriminalisation of buggery is a necessary condition for the legalisation of same-sex marriage. The call for the decriminalisation of buggery does not exist in a vacuum. It is but Step 1 in a downward spiral characterised by a series of decriminalisation, enactment and amendment of laws relating to sexual behaviour."
You can't argue for the retention of the buggery law on such philosophically shaky grounds. Plus, it ignores the fact that there are jurisdictions which have decriminalised buggery and that have actually amended their constitutions to specifically outlaw same-sex marriage. Christians must be honest in their debate on this issue and not obfuscate. The decriminalisation of homosexuality does not have to lead to the legalisation or normalisation of homosexuality. No more than adultery is normalised in law, though it is not criminalised.
Repealing the buggery law does not necessarily lead to same-sex marriage. We must not create hysteria by muddled reasoning. That is tantamount to lying, which is forbidden in Scripture. Attorney-at-law Shirley Richards, who has quite correctly and courageously exercised her rights as a citizen to staunchly oppose homosexuality, writes in that same July 13 issue of In Focus: "Repeal of the buggery law places us on this road which, in other countries, has resulted in minority homosexual rights taking precedence over the fundamental human rights of the majority."
Make no mistake: The legalisation of homosexuality threatens civil liberties and the rights of those of us who oppose homosexuality on religious grounds. It takes away our options of exercising personal conscience once homosexuality is normalised in law and if same-sex marriage is legalised. That has been the practice and experience so far.
But it is not true to say that the repeal of the buggery law inexorably leads us down that road. Shirley is not right that "repeal of the (buggery) law will also effectively remove the philosophy that protects true marriage". As a lawyer, she should know of those states which have decriminalised homosexuality and yet have constitutional provisions protecting man-woman marriage. Why ignore that evidence? Because we are in a propaganda war?
Dr Wayne West has been another brave and outspoken soul exercising his democratic right to lobby against homosexuality. Wayne has always sought to be reasoned - whatever you think about his efforts. But his reasoning is vulnerable to serious criticism. Wayne has trotted out a lot of incontestable statistics about the dangers of male homosexuality. The truth is - and the way Wayne speaks you would not know this - gay-rights activists accept that men who have sex with men have a higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS. They accept that anal sex is a more effective means of transmitting AIDS. In fact, that is why they are (misguidedly in my view) pushing for the repeal of buggery laws to free up gays getting treatment. (I don't know of health practitioners reporting gay men who see them.)
Gay activists are saying it is because of the culture of discrimination and stigmatisation why gay men don't get treatment. Using the argument that unprotected anal sex is highly risky can't be the most potent argument against homosexuality, Wayne. Gay men can solve that problem easily by simply using a condom! So what? If gay men start using condoms regularly and the rate of infections among them goes down, would your case against homosexuality collapse?
Health reasons are not what the Bible proffers why homosexuality is morally unacceptable, Wayne. That argument leaves out lesbians. The buggery law is completely silent about lesbians. In fact, in our culture, some of the most ardent and virulent opponents of homosexuality fantasise about and some engage in threesome with women. But the Bible condemns both male and female homosexuality. The conservative Christian opposition seems more cultural than Christian and more political than philosophical. The Christians need to engage a thorough-going and rigorous apologetics against homosexuality and not engage in scattershot, slippery-slope arguments.
Some Christians say while it is true that the buggery law does nothing to stop people actually engaging in anal sex, at least it makes an important statement about what the society abhors. It gave Christians a basis for orchestrating the collapse of the Carolyn Gomes-founded Jamaicans for Justice (Gomes was a main agitator against Professor Bain. God, the Christians say, has brought swift judgement against her and her legacy, Jamaicans for Justice).
Christians say, let's keep this law for when buggery is illegal. Gays can't slip material into our schools, children's homes and in our media. But we could still repeal the buggery law and not have homosexuality taught as normal in our schools and public institutions.
Besides, the buggery law does not forbid homosexuality, but only anal sex - which heterosexuals can and do engage in. Our buggery law - unlike in some other jurisdictions - does not punish lesbians. So Christians are supporting a law that falls short of biblical law. Better some of it than none, some would say. But this is not a theocracy, and if adulterers and fornicators are not penalised, nor should homosexuals. It is not fair. You say that's like saying, if you can't catch all criminals, we should not catch some. No, I am saying that in a democratic society, everyone must be equal under the law and laws must be just.
The buggery law is being used as a political weapon against gay people in this culture war. Saying, "Well, adulterers and fornicators don't want to impose their views on us and take away our rights like homosexuals" is another admission that the law is being used as a weapon. A law must be inherently just. We have to do better in our argumentation against homosexuality, brethren.
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.