Thursday, December 14, 2017

Fundamental dignity for all

(Conclusion of Fr Geofroy’s discussion on his contribution at the National Consultation on Constitutional Reform at UWI on February 10. Part 1 was published in the Saturday Express)

Since the issue of sexual orientation and human rights seems to have been the focus of keen interest and several public comments, I will concentrate on that issue. The context of my statements was my observations on the part of the Constitution called the Bill of Rights/Fundamental Rights and Freedoms by way of the report produced by the reform commission.

Prejudice and discrimination are standard features of situations in which the dignity of the human person is violated. The history of our people is marred by the scars of discrimination and prejudice. In the past and even today, people have been denigrated on the basis of various aspects of their personhood such as creed, race, colour, socio-economic status, culture, class, place of origin, gender, ability and sexual orientation.

My call has been for a decisive and resolute end to any discrimination that denigrates persons and an assurance that this be enshrined in our supreme law. This call is quite reasonable since we know that persons of homosexual orientation have historically been the object of persecution, physical and verbal abuse and widespread discrimination and these are grounds for anti-discrimination measures.

Furthermore if persons who suffer prejudice can seek redress from a legally constituted body like the Equal Opportunity Commission, surely it is only just that the principle of equity be applied to LGBT persons.

Members of that community should be entitled to address their grievances before such a body and not be excluded from due process and equality before the law.

What’s at stake here are fundamental concepts having to do with human dignity, equality under the law and even the worth of gay lives.

In recognition of the common humanity that LGBT persons share with the rest of the citizenry it is a requirement of justice that our laws provide support for the vulnerable in our society. This will ensure that LGBT citizens do not perceive themselves to be of less worth than their fellow citizens, do not feel like outcasts or second-class citizens in their own country, and do not see their lives as being ‘cheap’ or preferably expendable as far as the rest of the society is concerned.

What message are we sending to the nation when we ignore the aspirations of a minority and allow their fundamental rights to be “the subject of further national discussion”?

The view for protecting persons on the basis of sexual orientation or for defending homosexuals against discrimination is totally consistent with the teaching of the RC Church whose teachings do not condone gay sex nor does it conflict with the right of all religions to teach what they consider to be morally right.

On the issue of “gay sex” and “gay marriage” the Church teaches that this practice is unnatural and wrong and that marriage is between a man and a woman.

While the issue of human rights and the exercise of sexuality before the law can be addressed later in a subsequent publication, my argument as expressed above is fully consistent with the idea of gays engaging in platonic brotherly and sisterly love.

It would, though, be instructive at this point to consider the following principles of religion and statements of compassion made by Church authorities. The first is by an Observer of the Vatican to the UN in 2008 on the Declaration of Human Rights, sexual orientation and gender identity: “The Holy See continues to advocate that every sign of unjust discrimination towards homosexual persons should be avoided and urges states to do away with criminal penalties against them.”

Recently Archbishop Harris expressed the view that “the fact that someone may have an orientation different to yours does not make them bad, evil or criminal in any sense”.

Let me also reaffirm the rule “Thou shalt not kill” in the face of the shocking murders (some of which have been driven by anti-gay bias) in our country. As a Christian it is my duty to go against aspects in our society that may contribute to the disrespect of persons and any expression of hate or scapegoating. I do declare that the basic principles of the Bible and of all our religions in this blessed country of ours are love, mercy, beneficence and compassion, not hate.

Finally Pope Francis, recently affirmed this view on two occasions. On the first occasion he said: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Then in a subsequent interview published in the Jesuit Journal of America, he commented, “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”

• Fr Stephen Geofroy, PhD, is a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago who is a lecturer in philosophy at UWI’s School of Education