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Commonwealth anti-sodomy laws and LGBTI issues discussed at Jamaican conference

27 October 2017


International gathering: Kingston, Jamaica

International gathering: Kingston, Jamaica

AT THE Intimate Convictions conference held last week in Kingston, Jamaica, an international ecumenical panel of speakers — lesbian, gay, bisexual, and straight — spoke about the effect of anti-sodomy laws in the 36 countries of the Commonwealth where sodomy is criminalised; sixteen of them also criminalise lesbians.

Over two days, people described the relationship between their Church’s teaching and the lived experience of LGBTI people.

In the keynote address, the Archbishop of the West Indies, Dr John Holder, said that there was no biblical basis for the support of the sodomy law by those who used religion as a platform to deny others their individual rights.

The use of Sodom and Gomorrah, Dr Holder said, was fraught with the danger of imposing personal convictions, prejudices, biases, and bigotry about this story when it is not there. Decriminalisation, he said, must be worked for.

Lord Gifford QC, a human-rights lawyer who lives in Jamaica, said that a breeze of change was present in the Jamaican environment. He reviewed the way in which, after the Second World War, a new kind of law has emerged enshrining the dignity of every human being in human-rights law. What had emerged was the recognition of a right to love for people of different sexual orientations.

Many speakers highlighted the importance of separating Christian teaching about sin from the imposition of legal sanctions by the state to control human behaviour.

The Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, said that the problems we are dealing with now were the fault of the 1533 Buggery Act. The Dean of Cape Town, the Very Revd Michael Weeder, talked of the radical constitution adopted after the overthrow of apartheid, and the declaration by the Constitutional Court of South Africa in 1998 that the law of sodomy was inconsistent with the right of people to enjoy the freedom to love whom they chose.

The organisers of the conference had attempted to contact conservative Jamaican Christian leaders, inviting them to contribute to the panel discussions. None of them responded. On the first day, however, the proceedings were constantly interrupted with interventions from the floor.

The silence of those Anglican Primates who had failed to commit themselves publicly to decriminalisation was noted at the conference.

People asked why sanctions should be imposed on the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Scottish Episcopal Church when other Provinces had failed to conform to the reaffirmation of the Primates’ commitment in January 2013, “rejecting criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people”.

Those present at the Conference were clear that the actions of the Church continue to abuse LGBTI people.

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