On Tuesday, April 26, I sat in a crowded Jamaican court room but nevertheless I have rarely felt so completely and utterly alone. I was surrounded by members of my “noble profession,” many of whom were my contemporaries at law school and most of whom had been friends. Now, except for my own attorney, none of the group of 15 plus lawyers wanted to be overtly associated with me.
You see, I had committed a seemingly unpardonable sin in this most “Christian” society: I had dared to mount a constitutional challenge to an 1864 British colonially imposed law. This archaic relic, long abandoned by the British themselves, criminalizes all private acts of intimacy between consenting adult males. The “anti-buggery law” makes most, if not every single action that my husband and I do behind closed doors illegal. For these crimes I could be sentenced to up to 10 years imprisonment at hard labour. Upon release I would then have to register as a sex-offender and always carry a pass or face up to 12 months imprisonment and a 1 million dollar fine for each offence.
On that fateful Tuesday as I sat and listened incredulously I heard Jamaica’s former Attorney General, Mr. Ransford Braham, Q.C., allege that if my claim for privacy was recognized then it would prove detrimental to the well-being of the nation. He was also not shy about expressing his objection to Canada’s protection for human rights of LGBTI people with a snide remark directed at me to the effect that “not everything from Canada is good.” This was no doubt a reference to my same-gender marriage in Canada, which he alleged will be the disastrous next step if Jamaica legalizes my love for my husband.
Mr. Braham’s partner, who is (was) my personal friend also claimed that my acts of private intimacy with another man would expose the nation’s vulnerable children to sexual predators.
My batch-mate at law school averred that since Jamaica’s laws reflect the Judaeo-Christian tradition then I must remain a criminal.
There were many more insulting and hyperbolic allegations laid against me for daring to show my affection for another adult male. For example, a senior counsel stated that the majority of Jamaicans have a right to dictate what I do in my bedroom, even if it causes no harm to anyone else.
The judge finally remarked that “some” (but not all) of these “facts” appeared “far-fetched.” Undeterred the former AG declared that, although the arguments may appear unlikely, the various religious groups must be allowed into my case (and my bedroom) to prove their points.
It is important to note that I had brought this case only against the government and they were represented by a lawyer from the AG’s department. However that lawyer raised no objections to these spurious suggestions by the various religious organizations and suggested that the groups (totaling nine in all) had a right to be involved in this case.
Ironically, the AG only objected to the involvement of the Public Defender who had made it abundantly clear that her office was not appearing to support me, or any other party in the matter, but rather to assist the court with general principles of law.
For me, the entire day demonstrated a vulgar collusion of bigotry, which the judge termed “maturity.” All the groups were essentially saying the same thing: they object to homosexuality based on religious grounds. And they openly corresponded, passed notes to each other, and relied on each other’s submissions.
Meanwhile there I sat, alone while my very junior counsel studied her papers. I scribbled suggestions for possible arguments/approaches to her but she didn’t need them. She was as prepared as could be expected in the circumstances.
My lawyer valiantly tried to rebut the application by these various parties and pointed out that, since I was a man of quite limited financial means, this case would be financially onerous. However the judge declared that I should have been prepared for all these interventions (since so many Jamaicans are preoccupied with the topic of gay sex). I was certainly aware that there is a lot of interest in this case, because I had been the lawyer for the previous claimant who was forced to withdraw after threats to his and his family’s life. During that claim we had not raised any objection to the participation of the religious entities and as a result we were bombarded by spurious and irrelevant arguments that consumed a tremendous amount of time and resources.
That is why I wanted to limit the involvement of these groups this time around in order to save on costs. One can only imagine what the “chilling effect” would be on other Jamaicans asserting their constitutional rights when all and sundry can intervene in cases that they find interesting. Indeed, as the judge rightly stated, this is a very narrow claim against the government of Jamaica to wit: Does the anti-sodomy law violate my constitutional right to privacy? The involvement of these numerous curious bodies in my case is simply untenable.
Near the conclusion of the trial a senior lawyer effectively demanded that I declare my financial resources before I be allowed to claim that I cannot afford to be responding to all these interested parties.
When the emotionally draining day finally ended, the judge stated that he would reserve his judgement on whether these various groups would be allowed into my case. But he cautioned that he has a heavy workload and this matter would be at the bottom of the pile.
And so I sit and wait for justice while the triumphant and powerful evangelical churches continue to distort and discredit LGBTI Jamaicans and our love.
I was quite repulsed by the proceedings on Tuesday. A Jamaican-Canadian who observed the proceedings declared that it felt like being in the Dark Ages. I would have to agree with her. I certainly felt like I had endured an inquisition.
If you wish to assist my case, please email me at [email protected]
- Challenge to Jamaican anti-sodomy law gets under way (February 2016, 76crimes.com)
- Jamaica: Inching towards legal equality (August 2014, 76crimes.com)
- Why I fight the Jamaican anti-sodomy law (Feb. 22, 2016, 76crimes.com)
- OK to block TV tolerance ad? Jamaican court will decide (Feb. 2, 2016, 76crimes.com)
- Jamaica has a new gay-friendly public defender (Feb. 12, 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Progress in Jamaica toward ‘world as it should be’ (76crimes.com)
- Jamaica today: Challenging homophobic TV stations (76crimes.com)