In a movie recently was shown at the Rome Film Festival, Pope Francis used a contemporary legal argument to justify his views on long held catholic teachings with respect to the issue of same sex unions. The Holy father reportedly gave his nod to same sex unions by stating, “gay people have the right to be in a family since they are “children of God…you can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this…What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.” No pontiff in history before Pope Francis has gone that far. But we all know that this Pope is known to scrape away long held Catholic teachings and traditions.
All evidence suggests that Pope Francis has always held the views expressed. Although published in October 2020, these comments were reportedly made in a May 2019 interview with Mexican broadcaster Televisa but the interview was never broadcasted in its entirety, presumably because the church was unprepared to accept such a message. Reports have also emerged that while serving in Argentina, as Archbishop, Francis actually endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages, although he had never made a public pronouncement in favor of legal protections for civil unions since being selected as the leader of the global Catholic Church.
As expected, since the publication of Pope Francis’ opinion, the catholic world has been in a state of shock.Whereas some like the Secretary-General of the United Nation, LGBT rights groups and advocates have applauded and welcome the statement of the Pope as an “exhilarating change’ and a true demonstration of the “no discrimination principle,” the majority of ordinary Catholics, conservative prelates and Catholic scholars are still unaccepting of the bombshell. Many consider the opinion of the Pope as a betrayal of the faithful and are struggling to find the words- far less the right words to express that sense of perfidy and/or outrage that they’re now experiencing. Devout, conservative, practicing and non-practicing Catholics and those who reject the homosexuality life style on religious and moral grounds are convinced that they are on the right side of the argument, quoting extensively in religious dogma and expressing themselves in poignant commentaries in condemnation of the Pope. They are passionately explaining what they consider to be “the problematic nature of the pontiff’s troubling assertion” and are going to great lengths to illustrate their conviction of the potential harm inflicted by the injudicious remarks of the Pope.
Indeed, we often defend the right of leaders to express their opinions whether informed or not but the expressed opinion of the leader of the global Catholic Church, the President of the United States or the Prime Minister of a country, carries significant weight. This cannot be brushed aside as the mere expression of “personal opinion.” The publicly expressed opinion of the Pope is equivalent to a shot felt around the world. Pope Francis is a powerful public figure who some have argued does not “merely preside over a church with a homosexual sub-culture and problems with its priests being unable to keep their hands off boys but he is the gay leader of a gay church dominated by a homosexual super-culture” It has also been noted that “under the papacy of Francis, after a series of increasingly specific statements about homosexuality … pro-gay priests and LGBT Catholic ministries are very much in the ascendancy and have become increasingly bold in their actions and public statements,”
Without doubt, for a long time there has been a persistent presence and influence of a powerful gay subculture and lobby group within the ranks of Catholic clergy, who were well aware of the views of the Archbishop of Argentina before he was elected as Pope. They wanted him to become Pope because of his radical liberal views on many subjects including the issue of women in the priesthood and same sex unions. Many Catholics around the world are now terribly disappointed. Some have identified this endorsement of same sex union as the last straw to break the camel’s back. They are leaving the Catholic Church owing to the pain caused by the Pope. Dutch Cardinal, Willem Eijk, the Archbishop of Utrecht, made the startling comment that, “Pope Francis’ failure to uphold the Church’s authentic faith makes him think of the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s prophecy of a “final trial” for the Church before the second coming of Christ.
Since the declaration of Pope Francis, the Church in the Caribbean region has also been in turmoil, although several governments that are more sympathetic to the LGBT community such as the leadership of Barbados and the Cayman Islands have taken swift action to change their domestic laws or pass new Civil Partnership Laws and Regulations for same-sex unions. The new Civil Partnership Law of the Cayman Islands enables same-sex couples in Cayman to file for and register civil partnerships. According to the Government, the Regulations were gazetted after being approved by Governor Martyn Roper in consultation with Premier Alden McLaughlin. The Law was assented to by the governor days after similar legislation was voted down by Cayman’s lawmakers. However, as the UK’s representative in Cayman, the Governor reportedly had no option but to ensure that the Cayman Islands complied with the rule of law and international obligations under the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights. The new Law provides same-sex couples with a legal framework equivalent to marriage, which is currently restricted to heterosexual couples under Cayman’s Marriage Law and the new Regulations outline how couples can apply for a civil partnership license. The territory’s Human Rights Commission (HRC), has called on residents to respect the rights of each citizen,
Recently, the government of Barbados lead by Prime Minister Mia Mottley, announced that it was prepared to unpick its colonial-era homosexuality laws in the face of growing criticism for its poor human rights record. Although the government asserted that it is not yet allowing same-sex marriage, it has agreed to put the matter to a referendum and “be guided by the vote of the public.” According to the Governor General, Dame Sandra Mason at the recent opening of parliament, the Government of Barbados “is prepared to recognize a form of civil unions for couples of the same gender so as to ensure that no human being in Barbados will be discriminated against, in exercise of civil rights that ought to be theirs. The settlement of Barbados was birthed and fostered in discrimination, but the time has come for us to end discrimination in all forms. I wish to emphasize that my government is not allowing any form of same-sex marriage, and will put this matter to a public referendum…if Barbados wants to be counted among the progressive nations of the world, the country must change how we treat to human sexuality and relations. My government will accept and be guided by the vote of the public as promised in the manifesto.”
The Governor acknowledged that the move will likely attract controversy, and indeed there has been immediate pushback from within parliament followed by several angry protests organized and led by the Church. One Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn accused the government of sending mixed signals on homosexuality and suggested it was trying to “sneak [the legislation] through the back door… by recognizing same-sex civil unions, the government is encouraging people to break the law…because homosexuality is technically still illegal in Barbados. They have to stop this nonsense and think things through. They don’t speak to the morals of this country. Whether the Americans like it or not, whether the Europeans like it or not, this is Barbados and Barbados has certain values. Now if you want to change those values you must bring it in gradually to get people to accept them. You just don’t come and push it down people’s throats because you want to be seen hugging up your boyfriend and kissing your boyfriend down town. It is unacceptable the way that they are proposing to do this.” He called for the government to announce a referendum on same-sex civil unions, not just same-sex marriage, and “let everybody join the debate.”
But Prime Minister, Mia Mottley is more liberally-minded and progressive on the matter. In July 2020, she made clear that Barbados “welcomes all” as she invited foreign same-sex couples to live and work remotely on the island in Barbados in an attempt to kick start the dying tourism industry after the Covid-19 pandemic. Alluding to the island’s anti-LGBT laws, PM Mottley said, “This country, that has been forged regrettably in the bowels of discrimination, cannot want to discriminate against anybody for any reason. All must breathe in this country.” During protests that resulted from the government’s declaration, the local church has been vocal in condemning the government saying that the declaration will not be ‘forced on church’. In a recent Sunday sermon, the leader of the Methodist Church said, “the decision to officiate the marriage of a couple of the same gender should be solely left up to the marriage officer and should not be a mandatory law requirement of marriage officiants” and he was not going to go against his religious principles to wed a same-sex couple.
He forcefully stated, “There should not be a law forcing marriage officers to marry same-sex persons. They may be some officers that would do it but it should be left to the individual to choose. The church has a tough decision to make but the church must make a decision based on the Word of God and on the truth. We have to take our stand based on the Word of God; we cannot compromise our standards for the sake of seeming to be uniformed.”
Similarly, in Trinidad, a local parish priest, Fr Dexter Brereton stated that there is no change in the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding marriages despite reports that Pope Francis has endorsed same-sex unions. Trinidad does not recognize same sex marriage. Only married couples and heterosexual cohabitants are recognized. However, on 21 February 2017, a Trinidad-born LGBT activist filed a case before the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago seeking to have both Section 13 and Section 16 declared null and void. A hearing on the case took place on 30 January 2018. Prior to the judgment being delivered, evangelical groups urged the High Court to keep the buggery law intact, calling same-sex marriage “a cancer”, claiming that “God would visit his wrath upon Trinidad and Tobago and it would lead to more natural disasters and destruction.”They argued that if LGBT people were not criminals anymore, then this would violate their religious beliefs
In a 2018 historic ruling of High Court Judge Devindra Rampersad ruled that the criminalization of homosexuality and sexual discrimination in Trinidad was deemed unconstitutional. He stated that criminalization of consensual sexual relations between adults of the same sex should be outlawed and therefore, “this court must and will uphold the Constitution to recognize the dignity of even one citizen whose rights and freedoms have been invalidly taken away.” The government did not agree with the ruling and it has since appealed it. Should the government lose, the case could make its way to the Privy Council in London, which is the final court of appeals for Trinidad and Tobago and not the Caribbean Court of justice (CCJ), which is ironically headquartered in Trinidad. On that basis, the chances of success in a European Court on this matter are slim.
The fact is over 65 countries in the world, including Dominica still do not recognize same sex marriages and criminalize homosexuality. Owing to increasing international pressure that number is decreasing rapidly. In December 2019, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, and Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. called on all nations to repeal their laws criminalizing homosexual activity. They claimed, “individual men and women around the world have faced and continue to face punishment and even death specifically because of their sexual orientation,” Craft told a special meeting sponsored by the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, “this is a wrong we should seek to right, and it is a wrong I am personally committed to helping right.”
In the United States, the Supreme Court has already dealt with this issue and many states are now recognizing same sex marriage. In fact, the issue of non-discrimination against members of the LGBT community is aggressively fought at all levels in society. In California, activists have succeeded to change the Employment and Labour laws of the state, which now makes it mandatory for companies to have members of the LGBTQ community and minority leaders on their Boards. Under the new rules, companies must have at least one director from an under-represented community by the end of 2021. If they don’t comply they could face huge fines of over $100,000. Bigger companies with more than four directors are required to have a minimum of two diverse leaders. Additionally, corporations with more than nine directors must have at least three. Said one of the sponsors of the Bill, The advocates consider this as an opportunity to get [minorities] at the table where the decisions are made.
As far as Dominica is concerned, homosexuality is still criminalized. The local group, Minority Rights Dominica (MiriDom) has been calling on the Skerrit-led Administration to re-examine the Sexual Offences Act of Dominica as it relates to buggery, claiming that the legislation “discriminates against people because of their sexual preferences.” According to the group, “We are just asking that everybody be treated equally.” However, Prime Minister Skerrit has said that while he is willing to meet with MiriDom to discuss issues, concerns and recommendations, he does not think any one group should impose its views on any other group in society. In July 2014, PM Skerrit defiantly declared that his Government will NOT accept same-sex marriages. He insisted that Dominica will not follow other countries in doing so. According to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, “I will make it clear that there are some things that this Government will not accept and we will never allow for the state to recognize same-sex marriage in our country. If other countries want to do it, that’s a matter for them but there are certain guiding principles that we must follow.”
In March 2020, the United Nations Human Rights Committee raised concerns of Dominica’s legal status on the subject. The experts were reported concerned about alleged violence, harassment and marginalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, the so-called “gay panic” criminal defence that justified murder if the male victim propositioned the accused. The Committee observed that the 1998 Sexual Offences Act of Dominica criminalized consensual same-sex sexual activity (homosexuality) with a penalty of up to 25 years imprisonment and allowed courts to order detention of persons convicted under the Act in psychiatric hospitals for treatment. During the 2014 Universal Periodic Review, Dominica had indicated it was not prepared to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. The Committee was alarmed by reports of violence, harassment and marginalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, including by the police and asked what was being done to make them feel safe.
In response, Dr. Vince Henderson, Dominica’s Ambassador to the United States of America and its Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, expressed appreciation to the Committee and reiterated his country’s commitment to its human rights obligations. He said that the Constitution guaranteed every person in Dominica the fundamental rights and freedoms without discrimination but subject to the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest. He explained. “issues like the death penalty, abortion and same-sex marriage were part of a broader contingent of issues that required a public conversation and broad participation of the citizenship. The Government could not change laws on large social issues by fiat. The law criminalizing consensual same-sex activity was not enforced and over the past five years, there had been no records of attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons[in Dominica]. Equally, they did not face institutional discrimination.
With regard to Committee’s questions related to discrimination and violence on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, Ambassador Henderson stated that there was not much public discussion on the same-sex issue in Dominica. He pointed out that over the last five years, there had been no records of such attacks in Dominica. He acknowledged the Human Rights Watch report on the issue and said that, while Dominica was not perfect, there was no cause for concern. Dr. Henderson stressed that there was no institutional discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons in Dominica and the laws that criminalized them were not enforced. The DLP Administration has encouraged a move towards greater tolerance in the society, especially towards those living with HIV/AIDS.
In spite of the aggressive advocacy and the global trend in accepting the decriminalization of homosexuality and the recognition of the rights of members of the LGBT community, the attitude of Caribbean citizens towards that liberal and progress agenda remains unchanged. To a large extent our people are very conservative and many consider homosexuality as a sin, an “abomination” and are unaccepting of civil same sex unions let alone religious officiating of ‘marriage’ of same sex couples. In light of the Pope’s statements, many have considered the church as having no real meaning in contemporary society as it has removed all lines of distinction between itself and the secular world. Caribbean folks are generally of the opinion that the Pope’s opinion but the Catholic teachings and doctrines shall remain, for true Christians will never accept and support this sinful life.