Barbados Government proposes civil unions and hints it will make gay sex legal

Barbados Government proposes civil unions and hints it will make gay sex legal
Mia Mottley.

Barbados has hinted it will make homosexuality legal and proposed civil unions so no citizen faces discrimination because of who they love.

The announcements came in a formal speech for the State Opening of Parliament in Barbados. The speech is the mechanism by which the government sets out its agenda.

Meanwhile, the government of Prime Minister Mia Mottley also announced she intends to replace Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as Barbados’ head of state. The move will draw a final line under the island’s colonial heritage, over half a century after it became independent.

The international press swiftly reported the plans to ditch the Queen. However, few noticed the proposals for civil unions.

Nor did even local media pick up on the strong indication Barbados will scrap its law against gay sex.

The country rarely enforces the law but it is technically one of the most punitive in the world with a maximum sentence of life in imprisonment. Scrapping it will almost certainly be a pre-requisite for recognizing same-sex relationships.

Will Barbados back civil unions?

Mottley appears to be a far more progressive and LGBT+ supportive leader of the Bajan government that the country has previously seen.

She won the election in 2018 after a homophobic campaign from her opposition that speculated about her sexuality. Indeed, her campaign even got a healthy push from Barbados-native Rihanna.

As GSN previously reported, Mottley hinted at recognizing rights for same-sex couples in July.

Mottley’s Labour Party enjoys a supermajority in the Barbadian parliament. In the lower house, the House of Assembly, it has 29 of 30 MPs. Meanwhile it has 12 of the 21 Senate seats.

Nevertheless, in the speech, the government made it clear its plan for same-sex civil unions will face a public referendum.

In a 2016 poll, 67% of Barbadians described themselves as tolerant of the LGBT community. Moreover, 82% said they opposed discrimination against the LGBT community.

However, it is far from clear if this will translate to support for same-sex civil unions in a referendum. In recent years, US evangelical ministers have spread violence and hate against LGBT+ people on the islands.

Despite this, the speech emphasized Barbados’ previous proud record in human rights. But it noted its failure to make progress, including on LGBT+ issues, had tarnished this record.

Indeed, the government warned it could not ‘allow itself to be “blacklisted” for human and civil rights abuses or discrimination’.

Getting rid of the Queen

Governor General Dame Sandra Mason gave the speech yesterday (15 September). In fact, she is a British appointee. Queen Elizabeth deputizes her role as head of state to her governor generals in multiple former colonies.

Indeed, Mason’s formal speech opening parliament is ‘The Throne Speech’ – a reflection of its British legacy.

However, it is Mottley’s Barbadian government that writes the speech, not the UK or Mason herself.

Despite this, it may have seemed odd for Mason to have used part of it to announce the government’s plan to sack the Queen – and by extension her.

Mottley said: ‘Having attained independence over half a century ago, our country can be in no doubt about its capacity for self-governance.

‘The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind. Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state. This is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving.

‘Hence, Barbados will take the next logical step toward full sovereignty and become a republic by the time we celebrate our 55th anniversary of independence.’

Barbados became independent on 30 November 1966. That timetable, therefore, gives the government a little over a year to make the major constitutional change from parliamentary monarchy to republic.

Fears over human rights record

By contrast, the government didn’t set out its timetable for changes on LGBT+ rights.

But Mason did recognize the challenges the country now faces meeting modern standards. In the government’s speech she said:

‘The legal systems of modern societies recognise many different forms of human relationships.

‘Barbados is now increasingly finding itself on international lists, including within the multilateral system, which identify us as having a poor human rights record.

‘Barbados does not conduct business, trade with itself or give itself loan funding. In some cases, our human rights record, when viewed against modern international standards, impacts these other issues and how we are viewed among the global family of nations.

‘On this matter, the world has spoken. If we wish to be considered among the progressive nations of the world, Barbados cannot afford to lose its international leadership place and reputation.’

Strong indication Barbados will scrap sodomy law

Moreover, she then gave the strongest indication yet that Barbados will scrap its sodomy laws – another British colonial legacy. She said:

‘Nor can a society as tolerant as ours, allow itself to be “blacklisted” for human and civil rights abuses or discrimination on the matter of how we treat to human sexuality and relations.

‘My government will do the right thing, understanding that this too will attract controversy.

‘Equally, it is our hope that with the passage of time, the changes we now propose will be part of the fabric of our country’s record of law, human rights and social justice.’

Indeed, the law – Section 9 and 12 of Barbados’ Sexual Offences Act – already faces a legal challenge. LGBT+ petitioners are challenging it at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Mottley’s government may act before that legal ruling.

Decriminalizing homosexuality is more likely to achieve public acceptance.

Fanatical religious groups on the island do oppose change. However both the Anglican Bishop of Barbados and the Catholic Church want the ‘buggery law’ scrapped. They say they oppose homosexuality but still think the government should respect LGBT+ people’s rights in this regard.

Legal order to allow same-sex marriage

By comparison, the possibility of same-sex partnership recognition is less certain.

Barbados is one of 20 countries included in a decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It ruled in 2017 that all its member states should legalize same-sex marriage. So far, six have, including Ecuador last year and Costa Rica this May.

Mere civil partnerships would not bring Barbados in line with its responsibilities under international law, therefore.

However, they would mark a step forward.

Meanwhile, fresh pressure to recognize same-sex couples came this year, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Recognizing many rich westerners can now work from home, Barbados proposed 12 month visas for remote workers from other countries. The idea is they would choose to work on the ‘paradise’ island.

Because the scheme is for those earning $50,000 a year or more, their presence will significantly boost the tourist-reliant economy.

When Barbados Tourism Marketing published details of the scheme on 20 July it excluded same-sex couples. It described spouses as ‘a man and a woman’.

LGBT+ campaigners quickly complained, and officials updated the language to include any ‘partner’.

‘We will end discrimination in all forms’

In the government speech, Mason said:

‘My government is prepared to recognise a form of civil unions for couples of the same gender so as to ensure that no human being in Barbados will be discriminated against, in exercise of civil rights that ought to be theirs.

‘The settlement of Barbados was birthed and fostered in discrimination, but the time has come for us to end discrimination in all forms.

‘I wish to emphasise that my government is not allowing any form of same sex marriage, and will put this matter to a public referendum. My government will accept and be guided by the vote of the public as promised in the manifesto.’

Despite this pledge, Mottley has not yet set out her exact proposals for civil unions.

In some countries these have closely reflected the rights and responsibilities of marriage, but under a ‘separate but equal’ policy which stops short of equality.

In other nations, most recently the Cayman Islands, also in the Caribbean, civil partnerships have fallen far short of marriage. There, as in Bermuda, the battle to achieve marriage equality is continuing in the courts.

[Syndicated Content]

Published on GayStarNews Read the original article

Author: Tris Reid-Smith

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