Sunday, December 25, 2005

Notes from the January 2001 debate

In January of 2001, Guyana's Parliament voted to include sexual orientation as one of the non-discriminatory clauses in the Constitution of Guyana. These series of notes were kept at Queer Law website


Stabroek News, January 26, 2001
46/47 Robb Street Lacytown, Georgetown, Guyana
(Fax: 592-2-54637) (E-Mail: )
( )
Sexual orientation bill going back to Parliament
By Patrick Denny
The bill banning discrimination against persons
based on their sexual orientation is to be sent back to
Parliament for review following the maelstrom over whether
it would in effect legalise homosexual relations.
Unanimously passed by the National Assembly earlier
this month, it has not yet been assented to by the President
and is therefore not law.
Representatives of religious groups and three parliamentary
parties who met at the Office of the President yesterday agreed
that the Constitution (Amendment) (No.5) Bill should be sent
back to the National Assembly for its reconsideration.
The move to return the bill is almost without precedent and,
according to a knowledgeable source, there is no precedent for
dealing with a bill which is returned by the President and is
subsequently amended.
In returning the bill to the Speaker of the National
Assembly, according to the Constitution, President Jagdeo
would have to indicate his reasons for so doing. If it is not
amended and is returned unaltered after a two-thirds vote by the
Assembly, President Jagdeo is required to assent to it within 21
days unless he dissolves the Assembly earlier.
The legislation, among other things enshrines as a
fundamental right a person's right not to be discriminated against
on the basis of his/her sexual orientation. It was approved by the
National Assembly by a 55-0 vote on January 4, and was based
on recommendations from the Constitution Reform Commission
(CRC). The Christian, Hindu and Islamic communities were
represented on the CRC. Their representatives were Rev Keith
Haley and attorneys-at-law Vidyanand Persaud and Shahabudeen
McDoom respectively.
Sections of the religious community have over the past two
weeks been waging a rearguard battle to have the sexual
orientation ground removed from the fundamental rights section of
the amended Constitution. It fears that the bill would have
far-reaching effects including the legalisation of
"same-sex marriages" and the admission of homosexuals in the
Answering questions from reporters after the meeting,
Guyana Council of Churches (GCC) chairman, Bishop Juan
Edgehill said that while the GCC was supportive of the
amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual
orientation, it did not want the ban to be enshrined in the
Constitution as a fundamental right.
The meeting was called by President Jagdeo to have the
issue discussed so as to agree on a way forward in addressing
the concerns of the churches.
The representatives of the church had previously met
President Jagdeo and he had assured them that he would not
assent to the bill so that they could have an opportunity to lobby
the parliamentary parties.
President Jagdeo told reporters after the meeting that
recommitting the bill would give the parties an opportunity to
revisit it to see if the concerns expressed could be addressed.
He said too that he was anxious to get the other sections
of the legislation enacted such as the provisions dealing with
gender equity and the right to education and to work.
President Jagdeo said that he had advised the representatives
of the religious community to lobby the PNC for its support for the
process that the meeting decided should be adopted.
Bishop Edgehill, one of the leading opponents of the bill, said
that he had welcomed the opportunity to discuss the issue with the
representatives of the parliamentary parties -- the PPP/Civic, The
United Force (TUF) and the Alliance for Guyana (AFG). He said
that the discussion on the issue had been cordial, useful and
spirited and that the GCC representatives would be contacting the
PNC Reform to get its support for the procedure for reconsidering
the bill.
He disagreed with the suggestion that the church leaders
had the opportunity to study the bill before it was approved by the
NationalAssembly. It was sanctioned by the Joint Management
Committee on which the PPP/Civic and the PNC are represented.
Fazeel Ferouz a representative of the Moslem community
said that he had been thankful for the opportunity to discuss the
way forward. He said that the amendment in question was
disturbing to his community and the society at large and that his
organisation would be working with the parties to get the
amendment changed to its satisfaction.
Chandra Gajraj, who represented the Hindu community at
the meeting said that she was not convinced that the amendment,
which she supported, would legalise homosexuality.
Responding to questions about the position of the Catholic
Churchwhich supported the amendment, Bishop Edgehill said
that the pastoral letter to the Catholic faithful said that the bill had
offered an opportunity for the church to exercise compassion.
However, he asserted that the position being advocated by the
GCC was not a campaign of hate against homosexuals, whom he
said the church welcomes with open arms.
Recommittal of the bill, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine who
represented the AFG at the meeting said, would allow for
generating the widest possible support for the fundamental rights
section of the Constitution.
Aubrey Collins, who represented TUF and was also a
member of the CRC, said that the party was thankful to the
religious community for highlighting the possible far-reaching
effects of the amendment.

Stabroek News, January 26, 2001
46/47 Robb Street Lacytown, Georgetown, Guyana
(Fax: 592-2-54637) (E-Mail: )
( )
Letter: Christians cannot support discrimination based on sexual
I read an advertisement in your Sunday issue on the recent
amendment to the constitution to prevent discrimination on the basis
of sexual orientation and feel that while the content has some merit
from a Christian perspective, it does not address the intent of the Act.
The issue addressed by the Act is that of discrimination and it
has attempted to be legally specific, thus including discrimination
based on one's sexual orientation. Surely a Christian cannot support
discrimination against a person because of his/her sexual orientation.
Further, such a position against discrimination does not imply
any support for homosexuality.
In fact, the churches should be glad that such legislation has
been introduced especially when we consider that many offenders
in this area of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation claim
to be Christians, who believe that we are all made in the image and
likeness of God. Surely God did not make any exceptions in his
creation of the human species, which would allow us scope for
We must remember that apartheid was founded on precisely
this sort of discrimination, except that the base was colour of skin
rather than sexual orientation.
Finally, we Christians must cultivate the virtue of tolerance
since it will allow us opportunities to sincerely reach out to all our
brothers and sisters even those who may hold radically different
moral positions from our own.
- Yours faithfully, Fr Malcolm Rodrigues SJ

Letter: There was no response earlier on the constitutional
amendment on homosexuality
I refer to my letter captioned "Is homosexuality a crime"
(5.ll.2000) bringing attention to the fact that New International
Magazine had published an article stating that homosexuality in
Guyana was punishable by either death or life in prison. While
acknowledging that there was a maximum penalty for buggery of
life imprisonment, not death, you indicated in the editor's note that
proposed reforms to the Constitution currently underway would
radically change the existing laws. Your note to the best of my
recollection, provoked no response. However, that was a deceptive
calm and the storm has broken.
As the lobbying by religious church leaders and religious
political leaders gets underway, I'd like to lobby the 55-0 members
of the National Assembly (especially the Parliamentary Affairs
Minister, Reepu Daman Persaud) who approved this progressive
piece of legislation on behalf of people who'd like to live their lives
without fear of ignorance.
I remind the members to bear in mind while being lobbied that
religious leaders of one orientation or another, at one time or another,
also strenuously battled against the abolition of slavery and
apartheid, employment equity for Dalits and the abolition of laws that
valued the legal testimony of women at half of that of a man's.
Furthermore, what is very curious in this debate is the absence of
any mention of female homosexuality. Could this be because
heterosexually dominated society has other ways of dealing with
'out of control' female sexuality, for example, by the cutlass? As if
under some sort of threat, the focus of the homophobes is on having
a law that protects against 'buggery', 'anal intercourse' and
'homosexual acts between men'. Protect whom? And why the
This debate is not about homosexuality at all; it is about
maintaining the damnable fantasies of powerful heterosexual men
in Guyana at the expense of the powerless.
- Yours faithfully, Anil Persaud, British Columbia

Editor's note:
We repeat the editor's note [referred to] in the previous letter.
"Sections 35l, 352 and 353 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act
provide as follows:
35l. "Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a
party to the commission, by any male person, of any act of gross
indecency with any other male person shall be guilty of a
misdemeanor and liable to imprisonment for two years.
352. Everyone who: (a) attempts to commit buggery:; or (b) assaults
any person with intent to commit buggery; or (c) being a male,
indecently assaults any other male person, shall be guilty of felony
and liable to imprisonment for ten years.
353. Everyone who commits buggery, with a human being or with any
other living creature, shall be guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment
for life".
Thus buggery of a male or female of "any other living creature"
attracts a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Actual sentences
have been much lower.
We are not aware of any prosecutions for private homosexual activity.
The new constitution will make discrimination on the basis of
sexual preference unlawful. This could lead to some changes in the

Letter: Representatives of religions on Constitution Reform
Commission did not object to amendment on sexual orientation
(January 25, 2001)
I have noted with interest the storm that is brewing over the
anti-discrimination provision in the reform constitution in relation to
sexual orientation.
Is it not the case that the commissioners represented by the
three major religions in Guyana all gave their assent to the
recommendation when it was tabled at the Constitution Reform
If my memory serves me correctly, there was one dissenting
voice, and it was not the voice of Rev Keith Halley, representative
from the Christian religion, nor Mr Vidyanand Persaud, representative
from the Hindu religion, nor Mr Shahabuddin McDoom, representative
from the Muslim religion.
- Yours faithfully, Cavelle A Lynch, Attorney-at-Law, Former Supervisor,
Research and Analysis, Constitution Reform Commission

Letter: Organised religion has historically oppressed many groups
I was having my breakfast this morning -- bakes, salted fish and
freshly brewed coffee -- as I read the Toronto Star newspaper, a daily
pastime of mine. However, this morning my attention was immediately
arrested upon turning to the World page where in a small column
headlined "Guyana" I read that "Christian leaders have called for three
days of fasting and prayer to press President Jagdeo not to sign a gay
rights amendment to the constitution".
As a labour, community, human rights activist, I would suggest,
very respectfully, that these so-called Christian leaders, instead of
fasting and praying to deny fundamental rights -- indeed inalienable
rights -- to gays ought to be fasting, praying and providing for the many
poor, dispossessed, homeless and hopeless people and children I
observed roaming the streets of Guyana on my recent visit.
We must never forget that organized religion -- without
exception -- has historically used the bible and other religious books
to oppress groups of people. However, the level of hypocrisy on this
issue is truly obscene for so many "Christian" leaders while publicly
voicing moral outrage privately engage in the very behaviour they
The fifty-five members who voted for the bill should be
commended and I hope that the President moves forward to amend
the constitution to protect the rights of all Guyanese.
- Yours faithfully, June Veecock