Catholic bishop reverses himself, favors Dominica’s anti-gay laws

Roman Catholic Bishop Gabriel Malzaire in the Caribbean island nation of Dominica has joined forces with conservative Christians opposing a move to overturn the country’s anti-homosexuality laws. He had previously supported efforts to repeal such laws.


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Location of Dominica in the eastern Caribbean.
Location of Dominica in the eastern Caribbean.

Back in 2013, Bishop Malzaire wrote in support of a Vatican statement opposing laws that criminalize sex between same-sex partners.

Now, however, he has urged the High Court in Dominica to approve intervention by the conservative Dominica Christian Council in a lawsuit seeking to overturn Dominica’s laws against “buggery” and other same-sex intimacy. Malzaire is president of the Dominica Christian Council.

These are excerpts from an article in the National Catholic Reporter about the court action:

Bishop reverses course, supports LGBTQ criminalization laws in Dominica

Bishop Gabriel Malzaire
Bishop Gabriel Malzaire, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Dominica

Apparently contradicting his previous stance on the issue, Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau in the Caribbean island nation of Dominica filed court documents late last year in favor of Dominica’s sexual offense laws that criminalize gay sex.

In 2013, Malzaire wrote in an opinion article for the website Dominica News Online that the Catholic Church in the Caribbean island nation supported the Vatican’s 2008 statement to the United Nations. The Vatican statement condemns “all forms of violence against homosexual persons” and urges “all States to take necessary measures to put an end to all criminal penalties against them.”

But copies of Nov. 23, 2020, court documents obtained by NCR show that the bishop filed to include the Dominica Christian Council as an interested party in support of the laws criminalizing gay sex. The Dominica Christian Council is an interdenominational association of Christian churches, of which Malzaire is president.

Dominica is about 82% Christian, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives.

The Dominica Christian Council has a duty to promote Christian values and oppose any legislation that “challenges, opposes and/or is likely to degrade these values and beliefs, public decency and/or public morality,” the bishop wrote in the affidavit.

“The Christian values concerning sexuality, the family and the sanctity of marriage are no exception,” Malzaire wrote. “It is in this vein that the Applicant [the Dominica Christian Council] wishes to be heard.”

The court case began in 2019 when a gay man in Dominica, who has remained anonymous for his safety, sued to challenge several sections of Dominica’s Sexual Offences Act in the Caribbean island nation’s High Court of Justice.

The Canada-based HIV Legal Network, which is one of the groups supporting the claimant, said in a press release that these sections of the law have effectively turned all LGBTQ people into “presumed criminals.” Their precarious legal status makes them vulnerable to extortion, harassment and physical violence, according to the network.

A local LGBTQ advocacy group, Minority Rights Dominica (MiRiDom), has called for an end to the criminalization laws.

Daryl Phillip (Photo courtesy of The Dominican)

“Homosexuals are not requesting special rights, but merely to be respected as human beings,” said MiRiDom president Daryl Philip in a Nov. 26 presentation on the nation’s Sexual Offences Act. Philip said in the presentation that it was important for the bishop to speak out against the criminalization of adults for consensual sexual acts, because of the stature of the Catholic Church in Dominica.

“The sad reality is that the law, although it is not often used to prosecute gay people, is used to persecute gay people,” said Maurice Tomlinson, a senior policy analyst with the HIV Legal Network.

Because LGBTQ people are considered presumed criminals, the nation’s police often refuse to help them when they are harmed, said Tomlinson, who was born in Jamaica and moved to Canada after receiving homophobic death threats in his own country. He has worked on legal cases defending LGBTQ rights in Dominica, Jamaica and Barbados and conducted police sensitivity training in Dominica.

Police say LGBTQ people “are causing this upon themselves, because they are engaging in an illegal activity,” Tomlinson said. “[They say] ‘What do you expect — the society doesn’t like homosexuality, so you must expect that they’ll attack you.’ ”

A 2018 Human Rights Watch study on LGBTQ rights in Dominica and other English-speaking Caribbean nations found that many respondents had experienced harassment from the police themselves. One trans woman from Dominica told researchers she had experienced various physical attacks due to her identity. When she went to the police, she said, they did nothing.

“[Instead] they make fun of me,” she told researchers. “I’m not taken serious at all.”

… The island has around 72,000 residents, according to the CIA World Factbook, of whom about 61% are Catholic.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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