The Jamaica Gleaner on Sunday reported Bishop Howard Gregory, who is the head of the Anglican Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, expressed his personal opposition to the colonial-era statute in a letter he sent to a parliamentary committee that is studying the issue.
“Sexual activity engaged in public spaces is illegal and should continue to be so, whether of an heterosexual or homosexual nature,” wrote Gregory, according to the Jamaica Gleaner. “Beyond that, what happens in privacy between consenting adults should be beyond the purview of the government.”
The Jamaica Gleaner also reported Gregory wrote the Jamaican government should not hold a referendum on whether to repeal the law.
Section 76 of Jamaica’s Offenses Against the Person Act of 1864 imposes a prison sentence of up to 10 years of hard labor against anyone who is convicted of “the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal.”
The Jamaica Gleaner reported Prime Minister Andrew Holness said before his Jamaica Labor Party won last year’s general election that he would call a referendum on the sodomy law.
Maurice Tomlinson, a gay lawyer who lives in the resort city of Montego Bay and Toronto, alleges in a 2015 lawsuit the law violates the right to privacy and other provisions of the Jamaican constitution. Javed Jaghai in 2013 filed a separate lawsuit against the statute with the Jamaican Supreme Court, but withdrew it the following year because of what he described as concerns for his safety and that of his family.
A pastor who spoke with the Jamaica Gleaner described Gregory’s position on the sodomy law as “sad.” Mat Staver, chair of the Liberty Counsel, is among those from the U.S. who have traveled to Jamaica in recent years in order to attend events organized by groups that oppose efforts to repeal the law.
Glenroy Murray, policy and advocacy manager of J-FLAG, a Jamaican LGBT and intersex advocacy group, welcomed Gregory’s position.
“It is always a welcome sight when we see members of the clergy show support for human rights protection, given their general sphere of influence,” Murray told the Washington Blade on Monday in a statement. “While Bishop Gregory is not the first clergyman to take such a position, his position as head of the Anglican Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands gives him a wider platform from which to air his views.”
Murray added Gregory made his arguments against the law from a “rights-based approach rather than the popular religious-themed ones.”
“We hope that more religious leaders and clergymen will, given the diverse communities they serve, recognize that the state has a responsibility to secure the rights of all Jamaicans regardless of the prevailing moral persuasion of members of the wider population,” Murray told the Blade. “Governance should be grounded in rights protection rather than appealing to the moral leanings of the masses.”