No referendum on same-sex intimacy – Harmon

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State Minister Joseph Harmon has said that citizens should not be worried about Government holding a referendum on the decriminalisation of same-sex intimacy, since no such decision was made by Cabinet.

This announcement should go some way in allaying the brewing concerns within the local lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) community over statements that had appeared in this regard.

According to the minister, “This is not an issue that had been ventilated in Cabinet, and the Government has made no decision on that matter; and so a question of referendum — when it will occur and all of that — is not really on the cards.”

Referring to previous comments made by President David Granger, wherein he had said that Cabinet is yet to discuss such an issue, Harmon noted that the same position still obtains.

It has been reported that Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge had stated that Government would be moving to hold a referendum to determine whether same-sex intimacy should be decriminalised.

However, Harmon explained at the post-Cabinet press briefing on Friday that his colleague minister had merely responded to a requirement for information from an international body, and in the event that issues about LGBT rights were raised, the best thing to do would be to go to a referendum, since that is the highest level of consultation in any country.

“(So) what I’m saying to you is that it is not that the Government has taken a decision to hold a referendum on LGBT rights. So this is the position of the Cabinet — that this is not a matter that had been ventilated at the level of Cabinet, and therefore (it) is not something which our citizens ought to become worried about,” the State Minister asserted.

The local LGBT community has voiced its objection to the holding of any referendum in regard to the rights of gay people, while calling on the coalition administration to fulfil its manifesto promise of ensuring that the LGBT community and other minority groups are not discriminated against.

Executive Director of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), Joel Simpson, told reporters at a press conference last week that the rights of a minority group should not be subjected to a popular vote.

“This divisive referendum will deepen the marginalisation and isolation of LGBT persons, as right-wing groups will undoubtedly heighten their homophobic rhetoric, as is already happening on social media,” he said.

Moreover, the SASOD Executive explained that any move to hold a referendum would only serve to impose a stressful mental health burden on the local LGBT community, instead of strengthening social cohesion and building national unity.

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has also commented on the matter. Recalling that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) regime had not touched the issue, since, during consultations held then, it was felt that same-sex marriage was not a fundamental right, and if legalised, the Marriage Act would have become illegal.

Nevertheless, the former Guyanese Leader has posited that he does not believe Guyana is prepared for same-sex marriage, given the reactions from the public during those consultations done by his party.

“I don’t think the country — based on what our consultation revealed among large numbers of people — is ready for same-sex marriage and all of those things,” he opined.

Nevertheless, pointing out that Guyanese do not want anyone to be discriminated against because of their sexual preference, Jagdeo highlighted the need for the laws to be changed in order to reflect the current practice that obtains in the country in relation to homosexuality.

He explained that the situation was akin to the death penalty, which is still on the law books but has not been enforced since the last execution done in 1997. Laws criminalising homosexual practices are still in place, but persons involved in homosexual practice are not being charged on that basis anymore.

“We should remove (those) from the books because the laws must reflect our practice and our general law; so the laws at some point in time may have to change… So there may be a case for that – for having the laws reflect the practice,” Jagdeo stated.

The former Head of State has noted that, given the strong views expressed by the public during those consultations, the matter must be approached in a bipartisan way.

“…and so that is what we will do: we’ll engage the Government in discussions on this issue, to see how we can move forward (to a place) where people are not discriminated against because of their sexual preferences,” he stated.