— from Jamaica Observer by Dr Derrick Aarons
The important matters of individual and public health are seldom discussed from the perspective of culture, society’s history, or religious norms. Yet, the social determinants of health include all these factors, in addition to matters such as disease vectors and the social issues surrounding communicable and non-communicable diseases.
When the chief justice of Belize ruled in the Supreme Court recently that the old colonial law which made sexual relations between men a crime was also against that country’s constitution, that ruling also carried an impact as a determinant of health for men who have sex with men (MSM) — both their physical and psychological health.
DECRIMINALISATION AND DISCRIMINATION
The decriminalisation of sex between all consenting adults in Belize means that consenting homosexuals will no longer be regarded as criminals in Belize, similar to the decriminalisation of ganja in Jamaica, which resulted in users of ganja no longer being regarded as criminals under Jamaican law.
Under current dispensation, any law that prohibits sex between men but not sex between women would be deemed discriminatory. Likewise, if the law prohibits anal sex between adults, but is only enforced against men having anal sex with men and not against men having anal sex with their women, then the law would be unequally applied and therefore used in a discriminatory manner.
We should also note that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights ruled that the term sex includes one’s sexual orientation, and so the prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex in a country’s constitution also includes sexual orientation.
Hence, under international law, all countries that are signatories to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights must prohibit such discrimination.
VALUES AND LAWS
Values, cultural preferences, societal rules, and religious traditions all enjoy the approval of history, custom, and sometimes laws, and generally find anchor socially in human life.
Laws generally define one’s duties or obligations, and typically take the form of rules or commands regarding what we should or should not do. They generally set the parameters that prohibit certain actions and restrict liberty in some way. Laws are also rules that are enforced by penalty or punishment, if people break them.
We should note that across cultures, legal, ethical and religious rules prohibit certain offences, but cultures vary in exactly which rules are matters of individual choice, and which are matters for legal enforcement and punishment.
By laying down and enforcing what may, must, or cannot be done, legal rules function as boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Nevertheless, what is regarded as acceptable behaviour may vary over time, and from society to society, as demonstrated by Jamaica’s history of slavery and South Africa’s history of apartheid. When European countries became the wealthiest by colonising and enslaving people in the Caribbean and elsewhere, our current notions of human rights did not exist. Respect for human rights has been growing incrementally only over the last few decades.
IMPOSING PERSONAL OR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS ON OTHERS
We should also note that it is one thing to abhor a particular practice or behaviour, but it is another thing to seek to have that behaviour criminalised, or to fight to prevent it from being decriminalised. To insist on the latter means we believe we should impose our perception of moral behaviour as a legal statute on all people.
Yet, the law in our English-speaking Caribbean countries that prohibit anal sex between consenting adults reflected the values of the colonialists during their period of occupation. That law has remained unchanged in the Caribbean for the past 126 years, and into Jamaica’s period of Independence, yet paradoxically those who imposed it as law have updated theirs.
Many of us who wish to maintain the ‘sodomy’ law in Jamaica purport to do so based on the dictates of the
Bible. However, whilst Christianity is the major religion in Jamaica, many people do not use the
Bible as a ‘prism’ for all their views of the world.
Our society is democratic and pluralistic, and so to impose the religious views of the majority on the minority is unjust. Further, the issue of homosexuality is far from being the most pressing challenge facing us in Jamaica, and yet many of us get so very ‘hot under the collar’ around this topic, whilst our very ‘right to life’ and ability to live and procreate in Jamaica is being seriously challenged by the extremely high crime rate and interpersonal violence occurring in our society.
We have to be wary of appeals to our emotions and special interests, and respect the rights of all people, even those who do not share our Christian beliefs. Our heavenly Father is a ‘God of love’, and so, instead seeking to persecute in all challenging situations, we should always ask ourselves, ‘What would Christ have done?’
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