A pastor, a pundit, and an imam all say that homosexuals should have the same rights as other citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. But they also believe that homosexuality is wrong.
"We don't believe that any human being should be discriminated against," says Pundit Uttam Maharaj, the President-General and Dharmacharya of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha. "But we are not for same-sex marriage, because we don't have a system for that in sanatan dharma."
Mirza Ali-Mohammed, who is imam of the Bamboo Mosque in Valsayn, says, "No one should be discriminated against in T&T, regardless of any factors." He emphasised, however, that "Islam views homosexuality as contrary to human nature and unnatural. In fact, Islam views it as morally repugnant."
Pastor Amresh Semurath, of the Reformed Evangelical Church in Tunapuna, says, "I don't believe a person should be discriminated against. But, in the religious realm, a person must meet certain standards." (Box 1 cites the religious texts from the Bible, Quran, and Manusamhita which declare homosexuality to be immoral.)
Earlier this month, Roman Catholic Archbishop Joseph Harris emphasised the RC church's opposition to same-sex marriage. "If we facilitate sinful structures, which are against God's law, we are teaching our young people that it's okay to lead a sinful life. We must turn back to God," Harris said in an interview with the Trinidad Guardian (June 11).
Ali-Mohammed similarly believes that tolerance of homosexuality would have dire social consequences. "Homosexual intercourse inherently is an unhealthy act and carries higher risks of sexually transmitted infections. Decriminalising homosexuality therefore will facilitate acts which threaten public health," he said in an e-mail response to questions from the Sunday Express, adding, "I believe that decriminalising anything, including homosexuality, would encourage experimentation—especially among the youth—and the fear is that this 'alternative lifestyle' may appear to be acceptable."
Pastor Semurath disagrees. "I don't think it will change the society one way or the other, because homosexuality is going on at present," he says. His concern is whether decriminalisation would lead to information about homosexuality being disseminated, especially in schools. "There is an agenda on the other side, that they must be free to teach their position. I don't believe the State should allow teaching about homosexuality as a lifestyle," he said in a telephone interview.
Pundit Maharaj also does not believe that the society would be significantly changed if sexual orientation was made a legal ground to claim discrimination. "As it is, people are operating right now and nobody declares who he is. People will continue to voice their opinions," he said.
Ali-Mohammed's view that acceptance of homosexuals results in an increase in homosexuality is not supported by current research. Neuroscientist Simon LeVay, in his book Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why, writes: "It seems fair to conclude from these and other studies that people's basic sexual orientation doesn't commonly undergo major shifts...there is no a priori reason to conclude that social processes help decide whether a person becomes gay or straight, simply by virtue of the fact that a many-year gap exists between birth and the awakening of same-sex or opposite-sex desire."
There is also no data showing that decriminalising homosexuality has resulted, in the societies which have done so, in an increase in the percentage of gays over time, since the ratio has held steady at about two to four per cent of any given population.
Archbishop Harris's assertion that acceptance of homosexuality would lead to a more sinful life is also not borne out by evidence. Murder is generally viewed as the ultimate wrong-doing in both religious and secular moral systems. Additionally, homicide rates in societies generally correlate with other kinds of crime. If Harris's claim is correct, then societies where homosexuality is legal or widely accepted should have higher homicide rates than those which do not; but, as Table 1 shows, this is not the case. The table lists the seven countries with the highest levels of tolerance for homosexuality, plus Trinidad and Tobago. All seven have low homicide rates and low corruption levels. T&T, where sodomy is a criminal act and where the Equal Opportunities Act (EOA) specifically excludes sexual orientation as a basis for battling discrimination, is both highly murderous and highly corrupt.
Homosexuality has been decriminalised in 120 countries, and is illegal in about 80. Most of the latter countries are in the Caribbean, Africa, and the Islamic regions. Homosexuality carries the death penalty in Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, parts of Nigeria and Somalia, and in Iran. There are only nine countries which have no official heterosexist discrimination: Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, South Africa, and Spain. These countries allow gays to marry and to adopt children. Political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel, using data from the World Values Survey, write in their book Modernisation, Cultural Change, and Democracy that: "At the social level, we find a highly significant relationship between levels of tolerance and life satisfaction. This does not mean that people are more satisfied with their lives because they themselves are relatively tolerant of homosexuals. Instead, societies in which tolerance is widespread have a friendlier social climate that affects all members of that society."
In the United States, decriminalisation of homosexuality started in 1969, and in 2003 the US Supreme Court passed a judgement which declared that all anti-sodomy laws were unconstitutional. (See Box 2.) Public opinion polls in the US show that, in the 1970s, over 75 per cent of Americans still considered homosexuality to be morally wrong and opposed its legalisation, but even then less than half said gays should not have the same rights as heterosexuals. By 2010, although a majority still held to the "morally wrong" view, that percentage had fallen, and only 15 per cent still believed that gays should be denied equal opportunities. "Liberals are more accepting of homosexuality than conservatives, white more accepting than blacks, and the secular more tolerant than the religious," writes scholar Steven Pinker in his book The Better Angels of our Nature.
In T&T, the Draft Gender Policy, which is supposed to be laid in Parliament soon, included a recommendation that laws which discriminate against gays should be removed from the country's statute books. But the Government Minister who was championing that cause, Verna St Rose Greaves, was removed from Cabinet by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in last Friday's reshuffle.
Ali-Mohammed does not agree that the EOA should be amended to include sexual orientation, since he argues that gay people already have legal recourse if they should be discriminated against. "As far as I am aware, a person is free to seek redress in the legal system for any form of discrimination," he says. "A person or group can also speak out if they are subjected to any discrimination—using the media. We enjoy that freedom in T&T."
Asked if Hindus would object if the EOA was amended, Pundit Maharaj reiterated, "We believe that every human being should be respected. If a homosexual person has a skill, they should not be denied."
And Pastor Semurath says, "If a person is homosexual, they should not be denied a job or a service because of that. Nobody denies an adulterer a job, but that is also a sin."