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Don’t act hasty on same sex marriages

Sunday, June 3, 2012

As nations around the world continue to grapple with a host of innumerable challenges in all facets of societal life, a rising, contentious and provocative issue currently confronting leaders and the public is that of same sex relationships/marriage.


The eventual acceptance and legalisation process of same sex relationships has already occurred in several states in America, two provinces in Canada, the Netherlands and also the UK. The recent endorsement by President Obama of same sex relationships may have served as an igniting spark.


This public interest issue thus begs the question: To what extent should the Government get involved? Again, if the Government does become involved, what are some of the implications and unintended consequences that may ensue? One thing for sure, even though same sex relationships may incorporate human rights and equality issues, established cultural and religious tradition of marriage pose a major hurdle to circumvent. In response, the corpus of all the mainline diverse religious bodies, from Catholicism, Islam, Hindus, Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals, and other religious groups have made their pronounced positions.



These religious bodies have all expressed that they do not harbour hatred, animosity or discrimination, but their hope is that their spiritual love and human care will hopefully help these minority groups to see a difference.


Same sex relationship, migration and national security
Our resistance e to have a proactive and human rights centred approach to immigration still have us plagued with some archaic immigration regulation as per the 1910 UK, and 1952 Canadian versions of the prohibited class categories. This point has been repeatedly raised by myself for over 15 years,  as well as by Dana Seetahal, SC, who highlighted it once more in her last week column.



Specifically, Section 8 (1) (e) namely, “prostitutes, homosexuals or persons living on the earnings of prostitutes or homosexuals or persons reasonably suspected as coming to Trinidad and Tobago for these or any other immoral purposes.” Not for the purposes of argument, if the Government wishes to endorse same sex relationships, it must take into consideration that there may be nationals or perhaps even government officials who may, if they have a growing, committed relationship with a foreign national, eventually desire to sponsor them to cohabit together in Trinidad and Tobago.


The Government cannot avoid this issue, and the Immigration Act amongst other legal matters will have to address under the ambit of human rights and national security.

Religious freedom at risk for all nationals
Some proponents of same-sex marriage have argued that in the event of marriage being redefined, the Catholic church and other religious communities will be “protected”or “exempted” from being required by law to perform same-sex marriages. Such proposals may fail to understand the immensely powerful role and influence of the law in our society.



Changing the Marriage Act would, in practice, compel Catholics and other faith communities to recognise and accept same-sex marriage in their schools, charities, social welfare, health care and adoption services. It would also threaten the right of religious communities who believe in marriage to live, teach and publicly practice their belief that marriage is a union of a man and a woman.


ECHR decision
A significant recent case judgement that ruled against same sex couples occurred on March 20, 2012. This ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) noted that “same sex marriages are not a human right.” The ruling was made by judges of the European Court of Human Rights is Strasbourgh following a case involving a lesbian couple who complained the French courts would not allow them to adopt a child as a couple.



British Equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone argued that “put simply, it is not right that a couple who love each other and want to formalise a commitment to each other should be denied the right to marry.” However, the Strasbourg judges ruled that because the French couple were civil partners, they did not have the rights of married people, who in France have the sole right to adopt a child as a couple.


The judges declared: “The European Convention on Human Rights does not require member states’ governments to grant same sex couples access to marriage.” The judges added that, with regard to married couples, the court considers that in view of the social, personal and legal consequences of marriage, the applicants’ legal situation could not be said to be comparable to that of married couples, and that there had been no discrimination against them because they were lesbians. The ruling from the ECHR was not inspired by personal hatred nor animosity, but by a genuine concern for the well-being of children and the welfare of the society.


While it is very dangerous to be discriminatory, critical or condemnatory of this group of fellow nationals, there ought to be very careful deliberation and extensive consultation by the Government in this matter. If the Government were to eventually accede and legalised the same, what effect will it have on education, homes, national security and a myriad of other related issues?



Thus it behooves this PP Government not to act hastily or prematurely to endorse or legislate, but to seriously consider the views of the electorate, and encouraging a measured public debate on the nature and meaning of marriage.


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