By Shermain Bique-Charles
Prime Minister Gaston Browne is seemingly clear about the religious sensibilities of his people and understands how those in the Christian community feel about the issue of buggery; but, he said, “some of them are hypocrites”.
Browne was speaking on the heels of a decision handed down by the court, last week, that essentially ruled that the country’s so-called anti-buggery law – which criminalises the act of buggery – was unconstitutional.
“Many of them [religious community] are hypocrites. Some of them are involved in the very act. Let us not forget the number of Catholic priests who have come out and admitted that they have been involved in buggery and buggered some of our youths and they even had to repent … this is the kind of hypocrisy we have to deal with,” Browne said.
The challenge was brought by an openly homosexual man as well as the Women Against Rape (WAR) group, which argued that the law offended their constitutional rights, which caused the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court – the twin-island nation’s Court of Appeal – to agree that sections of the Sexual Offences Act indeed contravene the constitutional rights of citizens.
“The court has ruled that the provisions are discriminatory and we can’t build a society based on discrimination … we have to accept the position of the court. We can’t overrule them and we have to accept that even those who are part of the LGBT community, they are people; they have rights and we shouldn’t discriminate against them,” Browne said
Browne said his citizens will be treated with the same level of respect and opportunity.
“Those who have an issue with the ruling to understand that, this is not an issue of religious morality. It is an issue about the constitutional violation and at the same time, I don’t think anyone expects the government to legislate morality,” he added.
The prime minister said further, that while the lifestyle of those “on that side”, may not be in agreement with other people’s, they should be respected.
Last Thursday, Information Minister Melford Nicholas said that the government is not actively seeking to reframe the country’s legislative framework, to give LGBTQ+ Antiguans and Barbudans rights that include the ability to marry their partners.
“For those persons who have an interest, if a person feels that they’re being discriminated against by any of the acts that are in place, as had been adumbrated by the Prime Minister, if they make a determination to challenge it in the court, the court is the perfect place for that determination,” he said.
The current law stipulates that a person who commits buggery (anal intercourse between males, or by a male with a female) is guilty of an offense and is liable on conviction (a) for life if committed by an adult on a minor; (b) for 15 years, if committed by an adult on another adult; (c) for five years, if committed by a minor.
Section 15, which punishes a person for sexual indecency excludes charges against (a) a husband and his wife; or (b) a male person and a female person each of whom is 16 years of age or more.