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Thursday, 22 December 2011

Jamaica reacts to opposition leader supporting LGBT rights

By Paul Canning

Update below.

The support of Portia Simpson-Miller, Jamaica's opposition leader, for LGBT rights during that country's election campaign has drawn a mixed response, as have the comments of Prime Minister Holness to the question during a televised debate.

Blogger 'H' writing on Gay Jamaica Watch points out that her statement is not the official position of her party, the PNP. He believed that she was responding to American and British pressure - the issue of 'aid being tied to LGBT rights' - as well as appealing to LGBT voters. He pointed out that the PNP had supported the government when the chimera of 'gay marriage' was raised to deny inclusion of LGBT rights in the Charter of Rights Bill in 2009.

Commenting to LGBT Asylum News, 'H' warned that pushing for decriminalization would likely lead to defeat in parliament:
"She has to be careful though it may very well backfire on here given the political sensitivities involved," he wrote.

"Interesting times lie ahead."
Executive Director of Jamaican LGBT rights group JFLAG Dane Lewis said:
"We're very encouraged by the bold statement from a Jamaican politician the opposition leader Miss Portia Simpson Miller, I am very disappointed that the Prime Minister with an opportunity to make as bold a statement chose the lower road. It is going to take a conscience vote it's gonna take the leaders of this country to make some bold steps to recognise the rights of all Jamaicans."
The Prime Minister missed an opportunity to make a bold declaration on securing rights for all Jamaicans, Lewis said. Lewis trusts the sincerity of the opposition leader, and does not think it's a ploy to win the votes of the gay community days before an election. Asked whether she had made the statement because of 'threats on withholding aid by UK and US governments', Lewis disagreed.

Reaction from religious leaders was - perhaps surprisingly - mixed.

Dr. Lentworth Anglin, Convenor of the Umbrella Group of Churches, said on CVM News:
"We consider homosexuality, lesbianism, same sex marriage to be anti scripture and therefore we oppose that kind of behaviour, we are not necessarily dictating to individuals how they should live, we're just stating a position, we are not trying to necessarily trying to deprive persons of opportunity for service to the nation but we are just simply presenting our position."
The Jamaican Observer, which supports the government, quoted a number of church leaders condemning Simpson-Miller but also the general secretary of the Jamaica Baptist Union, Rev Karl Johnson, and President of the Jamaica Association of Full Gospel Churches, Bishop Rohan Edwards, supporting her on decriminalization.

Desmond McKenzie of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and Mayor of Kingston, on the campaign trail, said:
"I think the debate on this is not for now but it is a debate that should go on but there are moral issues here that as a country that has more church per capita than anywhere else in the world that is something that should not escape our minds right now."
Leading independent newspaper The Gleaner welcomed Simpson-Miller's statement, commending her and urging a change to the PNP's platform.
"By contrast, Prime Minister Andrew Holness waffled," they wrote, "arguing that his "sentiment must be the sentiment of Jamaica". That, essentially, is homophobic."

"But the responsibility of leaders is to lead, not merely to reflect popular sentiment."
Jamaican blogger A.C. Jarvis has documented the mixed response on social media in a long post.

Update:

PNP Has Given No Commitment To Repealing The Buggery Act
The People’s National Party notes that following Tuesday’s leadership debate, some persons have been suggesting that PNP President Portia Simpson Miller, has given a commitment to “repealing” the Buggery Act. The PNP uses this opportunity to state clearly that Mrs. Simpson Miller gave no such commitment.

The PNP President said it was time that the Act be “reviewed” and all members of the House of Representatives provided with an opportunity to vote on the matter based on their conscience.

It would be expected that in such a vote, Members of Parliament on both sides of the House, would take into consideration the views of their constituents.The PNP President remains committed to her pledge to make appointments to a Cabinet led by her on the basis of competence.

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