IT IS not often that Jamaican political parties stand in defence of a larger principle at the expense of the immediately expedient. When the parties confront the dilemma of such choices, their preferred option, usually, is to remain quiet.
So, last week’s break from the norm by the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) was not only right, but a refreshingly rare display of courage. It brought into sharp focus the woeful cowardice on the part of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and a crass permissiveness by its leader, Prime Minister Bruce Golding, in the Ernest Smith affair.
Homosexuality, and particularly the male version thereof, is highly offensive behaviour in Jamaica’s popular culture. At least, that is the perceived wisdom, given the violence that is sometimes perpetrated against gay people, for no other reason than that they are what they are.
Mustering political popularity
Being anti-homosexual is an easy way, therefore, to muster political popularity, demanding no depth of thought or engagement of ideas, but only an incitement to hate. Which is precisely what we believe was exemplified by Mr Smith, the JLP member of parliament for South West St Ann when, in our view, he abused the privilege of the House of Representatives, with his recent anti-gay diatribe.
In this cheap shot at popularity, Mr Smith claimed gays to be abusive or violent and questioned their right, as against other citizens, to hold firearms and to form organisations. The ridiculous Mr Smith even suggested that the Jamaica Constabulary Force was overrun by gays and suggested that the institution was thereby contaminated. He, subsequently, offered a tepid apology to the police that did nothing to alter a parliamentary intervention that was intellectually vacuous.
But Mr Smith’s nonsense, it appears, has no bounds. Last week, in a total absence of shame, Mr Smith, whose day job is as an attorney-at-law, proposed the banning of the gay-rights lobby organisation Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays, J-FLAG, which would clearly be in contravention of Section 23 (1) of the Constitution that affords all citizens the right of “freedom of peaceful assembly and association” and to “associate with other persons and, in particular, to form or belong to trade unions or other associations for the protection of their interests”.
Move to incite hate and violence
Thankfully, even as it recognised the cultural aversion in Jamaica to homosexuality, the PNP acknowledged the potential of Mr Smith’s gratuitous remarks to incite hate and violence and urged political leaders to refrain from an excess of language. “The physical safety and broader human rights of these citizens should not be undermined by gratuitous grandstanding on this issue,” the Opposition party said.
The PNP declared itself “committed to the principle of freedom of association that is enshrined in Jamaica’s Constitution”.
No room for selective application
We welcome the PNP’s declaration because, in a democracy, it is not permissible for there to be a selective application of rights and freedoms. Its silence in the face of an outburst of diatribe from one of its legislators suggests that the JLP apparently does not have a view of that matter.
But what is more worrying to us is the silence of Prime Minister Golding, who, whatever his private views, has a public responsibility for the security and safety of all Jamaicans, which, we feel, was threatened by Mr Smith’s display of stupidity.