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Never one to shy from controversy

Thousands of people pack out the streets of Hamilton in support of the LGBTQ+ community in Bermuda’s first Pride march in August 2019 (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

I don’t know what my two cents can contribute, but I need to lodge an opinion. There has been a lot said on social media and after reading the many comments, it is obvious that this week presents a clear clash of values on the issue of LGBTQ+.

I was around when what has been infamously termed the Stubbs Bill, or amendment, was passed in the early 1990s. Then, the real legal issue was not about rights; it was more about equality, given the actual amendment removed buggery from being a criminal act. I recall those debates.

The issue of rights was the subject of a future parliamentary amendment to the human rights code, which spoke to the subject of sexual orientation as being a human right where there should be no discrimination. I recall that debate, too, and the slippery slope the word “orientation” engendered. The most prominent argument was, where does one draw the line on orientation? Is there a pathological code, ethical range for orientations, or are all orientations equal?

Well, with that debate having ended or simply suspended, what we have as fallout are two camps solidly divided not on rights, but around the subject of the age of consent — otherwise put, the age of majority.

The world, at least in most complex and modern societies, has grown to appreciate that there is diversity and that people are different. Laws have been developed to protect those of the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination, and rightfully so. There is a difference between accepting the right of a person to be who they presume to be and embracing right. Remember, this topic begins around the subject of sex, which hitherto is a hush-hush topic in any event.

I recall many years ago a person who was considered mentally diminished openly asking a pastor in front of a full church congregation if he had sex with his wife. Ushers didn’t suddenly rush her out of the church, but she received attention ... a lot of attention. Why? Because she was talking about sex openly in church and they were afraid of what her next question might be. Technically, she was not insane, we are, but that’s what society is. Why couldn’t the pastor say, “Yes, Sister, I try to do it daily and recommend the Church do it as often as possible”? But it was the next question, right? How do you do it? That’s when they grabbed her.

Sexual orientation is not similar to race, place of origin, age or disability; it is related to preference. Being queer isn’t a biological condition; it’s a mental state that no amount of pressure from society can alter. So it is accepted — and now legally accepted.

The most vigorous of those who are openly against the rainbow coalition are not arguing that the LGBTQ+ community do not have the right to be who or what they profess to be. They are saying they don’t have the right to teach it in the classrooms or to the youth as an acceptable alternative lifestyle.

So we should pause here for a second because I can hear the thought rearing its head: what do you mean by “alternative”? To answer, let us digress a little into social history. There is a term “common law”, which has been used and recognised for thousands of years in many cultures and societies. The 7th-century Koran has the term “Urf”, which references respect for common law. Most people know the maxim “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”.

These ideas are not arbitrary concepts to be disregarded at will; they are concepts that are learnt as wisdom for society. Otherwise, political power will become a tyranny where cultures and beliefs are forced on to people.

We have statutes already in place that are intended to protect, for example, young minds, allowing them to reach the age of discernment before being engaged in adult activities. It is standard that pornography and obscene images and language, and alcohol including cigarettes be barred from distribution to young people or children.

No matter how great the cause, international law prevents children from being used as soldiers in war. In Bermuda, the age by law is 18, which is precisely the same age of maturity when persons are allowed to vote. Below that age, the range of exposure is at the pleasure of the law governed by the will of the people that conform to the common law of that society.

What is known as morality is common law. The social mores of Europe are not the same as for the Amazonians, Africans or Eskimos. The idea of universal human rights is in some ways a great idea, but it, too, must be tailored to fit the contours of common law. Often we hear talk of the European Convention on Human Rights, used or called upon by some as the supreme authority of ethical law. However, that authority, like it or not, will always remain with the people and the domestic jurisdiction or sovereignty to which they belong — in this case, common law trumps and is the dominant card.

What the protesters are saying to the LGBTQ+ community is, “You can live however you choose to live, but leave our children out of your choices. Let them choose their own way of life when they are at the age to do so.” In the meantime, like pornography on a bookshelf, or alcohol and cigarettes, it should be out of the reach of minors.

This opinion may seem to clash with human rights or the idea of governance for all. In reality, though, it is based on human rights where all people are entitled to their beliefs. That position holds religious and non-religious persons on the same level; no one has a right over the other. Our freedom is based on a social contract, and it is that agreement that needs healthy respect. Otherwise, we end up in conflict.

One may wish to go to Africa, Arabia and the Caribbean to push a convention that is popular in certain parts of Europe, but society and its norms cannot be simply changed globally by legislation. This is not an excuse; it’s a social reality that only gradually changes with time. This debate is far from over, but it is interesting that how you want to do it, and who you want to do it with — in your own bedroom — has become a community issue.

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Published August 23, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated August 22, 2023 at 2:27 pm)

Never one to shy from controversy

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