Britain To Scrap Anti-Gay Laws
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Britain’s plan to scrap anti-gay laws in its five Caribbean territories has islanders fuming about imperialism and immorality, but apparently resigned despite their anger and opposition.
``There is nothing we can do about it,″ said Orlando Smith, a legislator in the British Virgin Islands.
London has tried for years to cajole the territories _ Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos _ into changing the anti-gay laws themselves. But facing opposition from residents of the islands, the British government has decided to go ahead and make the change itself, officials say.
Roger Cousins, the deputy British governor in Anguilla, said he expects the British Parliament to change the territorial laws around the end of the year. And the British Broadcasting Corp. reported this week that London is preparing to make the move before Christmas. It quoted from a letter written by Overseas Territory Minister Patricia Scotland to a member of Parliament.
The laws in question make homosexual intercourse illegal, and the punishments vary from territory to territory. The laws are rarely enforced, though the Cayman Islands turned away a cruise liner chartered by gays last year.
Britain’s government says the anti-gay laws violate international human rights agreements it has signed. It has the power to unilaterally revoke the statutes, but had avoided doing so in an effort to be diplomatic with its territories.
``We simply can’t be seen to have territories with laws that violate these agreements,″ Cousins said.
Islanders, though, see the matter differently: Many here say homosexuality is immoral and goes against the grain of their culture and religions. Fearing a popular backlash, the territories’ governments have long resisted pressure to revoke the anti-gay statutes in their own legislatures.
``Because of our deeply religious people, we cannot simply stand up and propose a law in the assembly to legalize homosexuality,″ Anguilla Chief Minister Osbourne Fleming said.
Politicians and religious leaders in the region said the disagreement reveals a widening cultural gulf between what they condemned as an increasingly atheist Britain and its faraway Caribbean territories populated mainly by people of African descent.
Several former British colonies also have refused to change their statues outlawing homosexuality, including Jamaica, where gay couples have been turned away from some resorts. In the Bahamas, a cruise ship carrying lesbians was met by protesters waving signs that read, ``No gay ships.″
Such incidents reveal how existing laws reflect popular opinion, said the Rev. Godfrey Meghoo of the Cayman Islands, whose 7,000-member United Church led a protest to turn away a charter ship carrying 1,000 gay men.
``The (current) law represents what my parishioners believe,″ Meghoo said.
The territories continued to resist changing the laws even after Baroness Patricia Scotland, the undersecretary responsible for the Caribbean in Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, warned leaders in September that full British citizenship rights repealed in 1981 would not be returned unless the territories decriminalized homosexuality.
Montserrat’s agriculture minister, Brunel Meade, said Britain’s decision to unilaterally change the laws ``indicates a high level of disrespect for our rights and culture. It’s the attitude typical of colonialism.″
The territories could opt for independence, but they do not appear to consider it a serious option.
``Independence is something one must think about and not rush into,″ said Smith, whose islands have been British since 1666 and in 1967 were granted local autonomy.