[UPDATE: We have corrected this post to better reflect the fact that this is Simpson Miller’s second time in the Prime Minister position, in which she served from 2006-2007, at which time she became Jamaica’s first female Prime Minister]
Portia Simpson Miller’s People’s National Party won a landslide victory in Parliament over the ruling Labor Party in Jamaica yesterday, giving her a second run at her previous role as first female Prime Minister of that Caribbean nation.
Jamaica is well known for its severe homophobia around the world, and in the past decade, many instances of serious anti-gay violence in Jamaica have caught the attention of the international media. In addition disgraced former Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, had vowed to keep gays out of his Cabinet, a policy supported by Simpson Miller’s opponent, and outgoing Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, who stepped in to take Golding’s place upon his resignation two months ago.
“People are entitled to their opinion, as well as I am entitled to mine,” Holness responded to a question during a debate in December. “But as leader of the country, I have to respect everybody’s opinion, and make sure that the institutions of freedom are well in place so that the debate can continue.”
“My sentiments reflect the sentiments of the country,” he continued. “The Prime Minister has a discretion, but that discretion cannot be exercised in a vacuum.”
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In a nationally televised December debate between Holness and Simpson Miller, the People’s National Party leader came out against the “buggery” law in Jamaica that criminalizes homosexual behavior — though she refused to vow to push for its repeal.
“Our administration believes in protecting the human rights of all Jamaicans,” Simpson Miller responded. “No one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Government should provide the protection.”
“I think we should have a look at the ‘buggery’ law, and that members of Parliament should be given the opportunity to vote with their conscience, on consultation with their constituents,” she concluded.
In addition, when both candidates were asked if they would appoint qualified LGBT MPs to their cabinet, Holness remained steadfast to the existing policy while Simpson Miller refused to apply a litmus test of that sort to her cabinet candidates.
“But for me, I do not support the position of the former Prime Minister, because people should be appointed to positions based on their ability to manage and to lead,” she said of appointing a gay cabinet member. “I would appoint anyone with the ability, the capacity, and the capability to manage in my cabinet.”
Watch both responses below.