No decision on referendum to scrap buggery law – Harmon

Last Updated on Friday, 2 June 2017, 14:48 by Denis Chabrol

The Guyana government has not discussed or decided to take the scrapping of buggery laws to a referendum, a move that appears to have allayed some fears by one of Guyana’s gay rights organisations.

“This is not an issue that has been ventilated at Cabinet and Cabinet has made no decision on that matter and so the question of a referendum, when it will occur and all of that, that is really not on the cards,” Minister of State, Joseph Harmon told a post-cabinet news conference on Friday.

Responding to questions, he said President David Granger and Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge had separately merely floated a referendum as a possible course of action, but Cabinet has not discussed the removal of that colonial era law.

“This is not that the government has taken a decision to hold a referendum on LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights so this is the position of the Cabinet that it was not a matter which had been ventilated at the level of the Cabinet and, therefore, it is not something which our citizens ought to become worried about,” he said.

Executive member of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), Joel Simpson cautioned against the holding of a referendum on such a sensitive human rights issue that would elicit different types of responses. “We are glad that the Minister of State is clarifying that this isn’t the coalition government’s position,” Simpson told Demerara Waves Online News.

The Minister of State noted that a referendum is the “highest level of consultation” and recalled that the President has said that he would be prepared to respect the rights of other persons to indulge in activities that are not harmful to others.

Simpson, however, insisted that “we are totally against any kind of referendum on anybody’s human rights, shape or form.” Instead, he recommended that under Guyana’s system of representative democracy, parliamentarians should approve laws and policies after consultations with the people most affected by the decisions that they would be making.

The SASOD official reasoned that taking human rights issues to a referendum would send a bad signal to the populace that they could decide to respect human rights based on their personal feelings or views on the matter. “You are to respect people’s views, people’s freedoms, people’s dignity regardless of how you feel about them,” he said.

He said the repeal of buggery laws is a “much more nuanced” issue instead of a “yes” or “no” answer which could see persons with a lack of knowledge interpreting  that as same-sex marriage. Simpson low voter turnout is expected to affect a referendum. “The motivation for actually coming out to vote on an issue like this is probably going to be hate and prejudice,” he said.