NEWS that Caribbean neighbour Barbados has indicated that it is “prepared to recognise a form of civil unions for couples of the same gender” and will be going to the country of almost 300,000 citizens in a referendum to settle the matter has been met with revulsion by key Jamaican church groups.
President of the Jamaica Evangelical Alliance (JEA), senior pastor of Hope Gospel Assembly Dr Peter Garth, speaking with the Jamaica Observer yesterday, questioned what he said appeared to be a foregone conclusion based on the pronouncement of the country’s leadership.
The country’s Governor General Dame Sandra Mason, in a speech signalling the opening of the new parliamentary session, said the Administration of Prime Minister Mia Mottley will allow citizens to decide through a referendum whether same-sex civil unions will be permitted.
“My Government is prepared to recognise a form of civil unions for couples of the same gender,” Dame Sandra told legislators, adding that this would “ensure that no human being in Barbados will be discriminated against in exercise of civil rights that ought to be theirs. In a civil union same-sex couples are given legal right to the same status and privileges granted to heterosexual married couples”.
“If you are going to have a referendum what is the purpose if you have already decided? What if 90-odd per cent of Bajans are not in favour, are they still going to go ahead with it? The referendum would be a farce,” Reverend Garth noted.
“If they go to referendum, my prediction is the vast majority are going to say no. The Government by force can go to a conscience vote and have them passed, but the people of the country are not going to have it.
“I think Barbados is on the wrong road and what it is going to cost them is frightening,” Reverend Garth stated.
The JEA president said the body remains as one in its position on the matter since the previous Government indicated that it would be going to the populace in a referendum on the same issue.
“While there are some issues that there is a divide when it comes to the Jamaica Evangelical Alliance, I can speak clearly and loudly regarding the position of the evangelicals [on this issue]. We hold to the biblical position, morality does not evolve, and three thousand years from now, if the Lord tarries, we will have the same position.
“The JEA is not standing for that, and we will resist to the maximum level authorities so given to marry persons who are same sex. We are not going to do it. They have the power, they can remove our licences and they are free to do so, but we are not going to do it,” he told the Observer.
Added Reverend Garth:“It is totally opposite to our family values and what we have been taught in scriptures. I look at it also from a psychological and medical perspective and nobody has been able to show any scientific research to show that anyone was born that way. They have not put that evidence on the table.”
Pointing to what he said was evidence provided by experts that anal cancer is prevalent among men who engage in intercourse with other men, Reverend Garth said the cost to treat such conditions would be “astronomical” if assent was given to such unions.
“The Church is not on board with that and we will never be. We believe it is wrong and 3,000 years from now it will still be wrong. If we go to a referendum on this, we are going to be wasting money because Jamaicans will not agree. With what is happening now with the erosion of family life generally, how can we do this now?” he stated.
He had a further word for Jamaica’s politicians.
“Our Government here in Jamaica must not have conscience vote; we need to know what our parliamentarians are saying. We need to know their position on family values, it is very ciritcal,” Reverend Garth, who is also a counselling psychologist, noted.
In the meantime, general secretary of the Jamaica Baptist Union Reverend Karl Johnson said, while not knocking Barbados for its decision to put the matter to referendum, there was no denying foundational truths.
“If Barbados is going to put it to a referendum, then one cannot fault a country for asking its people where their mind is. I have always said that the Christian community must organise itself and have a position on a lot of these issues, be they of a moral, sexual nature or around corruption. We have to think about those things.
“My conviction in this is that I still affirm that God’s intention is for intimate relations to exist between male and female. They [Barbados, based on the report] do not seem to be calling it a marriage, because a marriage speaks to a certain covenantal arrangement grounded in the divine purpose, and so I take note of the fact that they are calling it a ‘union’,” he stated.
Addressing intentions by the previous Jamaica Labour Party Administration that it would be going to the Jamaican populace in a referendum on the matter, he said: “Speaking as a citizen, if they have given their word to the Jamaican people, they must keep their word, but whatever the result of the referendum provides as a country we have to accept it. However, as a Christian, if those results do not align with my own convictions then I will have to be a conscientious objector to whatever decision is made if it does not fall in line with my convictions.”
“I have said from day one that I will turn in my licence if a condition of keeping it will be me having to perform same-sex unions. I am willing to give up my State licence,” Johnson said resolutely.
Chairman of the Jamaica Pentecostal Union Apostolic(JPUA), Reverend Major Canute Chambers, speaking with the Observer on the matter said that body was unwavering in its stance.
“To any well-thinking servant of God who believes the word of God and stands by it, homosexuality is not an option. It is something that is abhorred. Amidst the change in society, and indeed the world, where persons have moved farther away from acts of righteousness and becoming so liberal, not accepting what the word of God says and heap unto themselves people with itching ears who will say what they want to hear. But as for me, and I believe I speak for the entire JPUA, we are completely against same sex marriages or unions of any kind. We define the activity by the word of God, and we stand ready to deny, denounce and, as much as lies in our power, to move against anything, whether by legislation or otherwise, to promote and that is our firm position,” he told the Observer.
Numerous marriage officers in a meeting called by the Registrar General’s Department about a year ago when that issue arose forthrightly declared that they would prefer to surrender their licences than conduct such ceremonies. One marriage officer who was present told the Observer that some ministers on the day in question were so opposed to the idea that they indicated they would hand in their licences then and there without being asked.