Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has restated his call for a conversation on same-sex relationships in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
His comments came on Monday at a press conference in which he condemned the beating of two cross-dressing men in Calliaqua on the weekend over suspicions that they are gay.
Gonsalves, however, said that while he was calling for a conversation, he is not advocating that the nation’s laws, which criminalises same-sex activity, be changed.
“Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating that. But if we are to build further a humane society, that is to say, a society based on humane values, that the church is the appropriate institution to begin that conversation,” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Legal Affairs, and national security.
The prime minister said that he knows persons would question his unwillingness to start the conversation.
“Well, I don’t have to start every conversation,” he said, repeating the position he took several years ago, even as he began a conversation on the decriminalisation of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
“But the truth is this, that there are reports of persons, including a significant number of young persons who are engaged in a lifestyle which would not be approved of, traditionally, and I am talking in terms of gay or lesbian activity,” the prime minister said.
He said politicians should not lead the conversation on the subject.
“As soon as politicians get involved, it is that Ralph is against gays, Ralph is for gays; Ralph is against lesbians, Ralph is for lesbians.
“You’d get that, but a social and moral issue like this, and some may say a freedom issue, a libertarian issue, should be discussed, should be led by the churches.”
He said the immediate past Anglican bishop in Barbados had said in Jamaica that he supports the decriminalisation of homosexual conduct and that the ban against homosexual behaviour is not biblically sanctioned.
“That’s a high churchman in the Anglican church,” Gonsalves said, adding that he was surprised by the cleric’s pronouncements.
“We know that in Anglican communities around the world and other communities, in Britain and the United States, churchmen, they are even going so far as having partners of the same sex, but some are even marrying persons and may be even married themselves to persons of the same sex.”
The prime minister said some Vincentians would say that what people do in their bedrooms is their business and the law should be changed in that regard, but it is bridge too far to allow same-sex marriages.
“So, there are all kinds of contending viewpoints. So, I am suggesting that this issue be placed in a wider context for a discussion by the church or other NGOs, to take it out of the realm of politics.”
Gonsalves said that in all his 37 years as a legal practitioner, he does not know of anyone in SVG who has been prosecuted for homosexual conduct.
He, however, said that over 30 years ago, an older man was brought to court for having allegedly groomed “a younger chap”.
“But nobody has been prosecuted, certainly not for consensual acts in private.
The prime minister said that he was also not making the case for decriminalisation of “homosexuality”.
“I am making the case for an intelligent conversation and that those who feel very strongly that it should still have a criminal ban on it, can so state and their reasons.
“Those who feel that it is wrong but you shouldn’t criminalise it, and there are some who feel it isn’t wrong at all. Let everybody have their say, but not by the government or any political party leading the discussion.”
Gonsalves said that SVG is a small society.
“Am I wrong, colleagues from the press who are here, to say that there is a sense that a number of persons more than certainly, I believe, when I was a young man, are engaged in this particular lifestyle?
“And I am not advocating it but as a leader, as a political leader, I acknowledge all the dimensions and say there should be a discussion. Because if there is no discussion and you just simply have a homophobic prejudice, it leads to assaults on people whom you should not be assaulting simply because they’re dressing up strange and funny.”
He said he knows the reportage would say that he touched on the topic but tiptoes around the issue “because he is afraid and so on.
“But you can say whatever you want, but I think I have made, I believe, a reasonable case for an open, mature conversation.”
The prime minister said he knows there are several evangelicals who say same-sex relations are morally wrong and must be railed against but would also say one should not go into someone’s bedroom.
“And there are others who would say, ‘Look, this is a Sodom and Gomorrah issue, nothing but damnation would come and you have to bring down the full force of the law on it.
“Well, we inherited these laws and we have not, I think, had a mature, sensible and sensitive conversation on the subject.
“I don’t know what is the view of you guys in the media. Maybe you all should start the conversation. Are you afraid to write a story on it? … Because depending on how you write it, you may be subject to prejudice one way or the other,” he said to laughter from the press corps, a member of which said he had already written on the topic.
The prime minister added: “Which is the reason why we must have a mature conversation. The whole world is talking about it. Why are we not talking about it? It doesn’t mean we have to go where the world is going. We may find our own particular answer to this question.”
He said the Pope had addressed the question.
“And I notice, as a Catholic, that he has tiptoed to a particular point as though he is going the way of some other churchmen and then he gets a blast from a section of the church and he pulls back.”
Gonsalves expressed hope “that in this small society that the young men who go about dressing up as girls and so on, they should perhaps begin to encourage a conversation rather than themselves trying to shock people’s sensitivities and sensibilities. Maybe that would be a more productive thing to do.”
The prime minister said he was travelling along Back Street, Kingstown and he saw “three persons cavorting and at first I thought these are three strange young ladies, but, on a closer view, they were not and my impression was that it may be wiser for them to carry the argument in another way.
“Some may say, ‘No! Ralph would not have spoken about it and [journalist] Dayle [DaSilva] would not have asked about it if we didn’t go about and shocking people’s sensitivities and sensibilities. I don’t know,” the prime minister said, speculating on the thinking of the cross-dressing men.