The following article by former AEC General Secretary Rev Michael James of Guyana appeared as an editorial titled ‘Guyana, homosexuals and Jesus’ in the August 11 issue of the Catholic Standard, the weekly publication of the Diocese of Georgetown.
Countries in the continent of the Americas, including most recently Belize, have no current laws criminalising homosexual acts between consenting adults. There is only one exception, Guyana.
Guyana, along with nine other island nations of the former British West Indies still have criminal punishment for buggery on their statute books. These ten countries comprise Jamaica, Dominica, Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, and St Kitts and Nevis. This has been described as being the result of “the major historical influence” or legacy of the British Empire. In most cases, it was former colonial administrators that established anti-gay legislation or sodomy acts during the 19th century and even earlier.
The penalties for private, consensual sexual conduct between same-sex adults remain harsh in many Commonwealth countries. They include 10 years imprisonment and hard labour in Jamaica, 14 years in Kenya, 20 years plus flogging in Malaysia, and 25 years in Trinidad and Tobago. Bangladesh, Barbados, Guyana, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda have a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, while in the 12 northern states of Nigeria the maximum penalty for male homosexuality is death. In some countries such as Cameroon, arrests and imprisonment for acts that indicate homosexuality are frequently reported. In Uganda and Nigeria recent legislative proposals would significantly increase the penalties for homosexuality.
Of the world’s 193 UN member countries, a falling but still significant minority of countries, 76, still maintain criminal penalties for consensual homosexual acts in private, with Commonwealth countries comprising half the nations with penalties. All developed Commonwealth countries, including the UK in 1967 (one year after Guyana’s independence) have repealed their homosexual criminalisation laws, such as the following examples from the current Criminal Law (Offences) Act of Guyana: Section 352. Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission, or procures or attempts to procure the commission, by any male person, of any act of gross indecency with any other male person shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and liable to imprisonment for two years.
Section 354. Everyone who commits buggery … shall be guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment for life.
How do these laws compare with the witness of the Catholic Church in following Jesus? The Catholic Church has expressed strong opposition to such criminalisation. In 2008, the Holy See’s delegation to the United Nations General Assembly advocated the elimination of “every sign of unjust discrimination towards homosexual persons” and “urged States to do away with criminal penalties against them”.
The following year, Philip J Bené, the legal attaché to the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, issued a statement at a panel meeting at the UN General Assembly. It reiterated that the Holy See “opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person … The murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State.”
Similar statements have followed in recent years (The Tablet July 29, 2017).
The author of the article, Rev Mark Oaklye, Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s (Anglican) Cathedral, London, concludes, “It is time for an ecumenical partnership at both the highest official level and at local levels to voice loudly, clearly and without apology God’s love for his LGBT people. Where there are criminal sanctions against them, the Churches should take the lead in campaigning for their removal, so that LGBT people can live without the daily threat of violence and intimidation, in dignity, freedom and peace.”
Then Guyana RC Bishop Benedict Singh´s message on the issue in 2001 is still a vital land-mark for all Guyanese. He reminds us: “In society at large – and in our Church – there are homosexual men and lesbian women who lead useful and virtuous lives. Many of them show an active concern for justice and for the plight of the needy which is an example to all of us. In the face of the discrimination they encounter, some of them can be described as truly heroic….
“We do believe that God himself is the author of marriage in which a man and a woman ‘are no longer two but one’. We believe that that act of sexual intercourse is the highest expression of that unity. So we hold that the intimate sexual act may only be exercised between a man and a woman joined in the unbreakable union of marriage.
“Further, we believe that all Christians are called to actively promote the values of marriage and the family among people of every race and religion and sexual orientation. But our support for marriage and the family is not helped by discrimination against any person. It is not sufficient to merely refrain from active discrimination. We have to show others that we love and respect them as per-sons…
“Finally, we should not allow ourselves to react to the attempts of others to bring more justice to our society with fear or irrational emotion. The Spirit of God is with us and he will enable us calmly and serenely to proclaim our faith and that justice which is an integral part of that faith.” (Pastoral Letter, January 23, 2001)
And for us who are confident that we are better, more virtuous than homosexuals, Jesus has an even sterner warning. “In truth I tell you, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you.” (Mt 21:31)
“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mt 9:13).