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Anglican leader in Jamaica breaks ranks by calling for legalisation of sodomy

Anglican leader in Jamaica breaks ranks by calling for legalisation of sodomy

By James Macintyre
July 25, 2017

The head of the Anglican Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Bishop Howard Gregory, has broken ranks with many fellow Christian leaders in the region and urged for the removal of the offence of sodomy from the law.

Bishop Gregory has also recommended a widening of the definition of rape and the recognition of marital rape.

In a written submission to the committee examining the Sexual Offences Act and related laws in which he emphasised that his views were personal, Gregory likened his position to that of the executed German Christian leader Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who had argued that the aim of the Church is not 'that the authorities make Christian policies, Christian laws and so on, but that they be proper authorities in the sense of their special commission'.

The Jamaica Gleaner reported that Gregory believes that the State should not waste time with a referendum on the sodomy law, and instead should simply strike it from the books.

According to The Gleaner, Gregory said that Christians should be cautioned against believing in the view that they must be the gatekeepers of the law against sodomy in order to prevent the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

'This submission does not accept the cause and effect relationship which is being introduced into this matter, neither is it advocating homosexual marriages,' the bishop said.

Section 61 of the Offences against the Person Act of 1864 criminalises the 'abominable' act - consensual or otherwise -- and the maximum punishment is 10 years' imprisonment.

However, Gregory argued: 'Sexual activity engaged in public spaces is illegal and should continue to be so, whether of an heterosexual or homosexual nature.

'Beyond that, what happens in privacy between consenting adults should be beyond the purview of the Government.'

Jamaica's prime minister Andrew Holness promised before his party won the 2016 general election that the removal of the sodomy law would be put to Jamaicans in a referendum. But since the victory, Holness has said that while the referendum will take place, it is not a priority for his government.

The chair of the parliamentary committee, Delroy Chuck, said earlier this year that the law should be scrapped and the church lobby ignored. But after facing criticism, he reverted to the referendum position.

Gregory, in his submission, said: 'The promise of a referendum on the issue is at best a way in which those responsible for governance are postponing the issue in order to avoid taking controversial decisions.'

According to surveys, most Jamaicans have historically been opposed to homosexuality. A Gleaner-Bill Johnson poll in 2014 found that 91 per cent of Jamaicans believe lawmakers should make no attempt to repeal the sodomy law.

Six church groups and the conservative Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society made submissions to Parliament, urging the lawmakers to retain the sodomy law for the health of the nation and in line with Christian principles.

Separately, Gregory argued that there can be rape in marriage, a view that also breaks ranks with the position of church groups, including the growing group, Jamaica Union of Seventh-day Adventists.

'Non-consensual sex accompanied by threat, intimidation and violence ought to be characterised as rape,' Gregory said.

The parliamentary committee completed oral submissions last week. Its report is expected to be completed by November and submitted to the House of Representatives for debate.

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