OPINION: Jamaican Laws Against Homosexuality Helps Spread AIDS

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By Yvonne Sobers McCalla

On July 2, 2009, the Delhi High Court in India ruled that buggery (anal sex between consenting adults) would no longer be a crime. The judges decided that a law imposed by Britain in the nineteenth century was out of touch with twenty-first century realities. By contrast, July 17, 2009, the Jamaican Senate passed a Sexual Offences Bill, taking care to keep the law against buggery beyond challenge.

Laws against buggery may satisfy religious conservatives, but they do not stop consenting adults from doing as they please in their bedrooms. In Jamaica, gay men may be charged or threatened with charges of buggery, mainly for purposes of extortion or blackmail. However, convictions are rare because there is no complainant and the “offence” is difficult to prove to the court’s satisfaction.

However, in Jamaica as in other countries that retain buggery laws, gay men at risk for HIV/AIDS infection avoid treatment for fear of being criminalized because of their sexuality. Health workers therefore have difficulty in reaching closeted gay men (about 100 per cent of gays in Jamaica) with information about safe sex practices or about HIV/AIDS prevention, detection, and treatment. Data show that many closeted gay men in Jamaica, to deflect suspicion of homosexuality, engage in sex with multiple unsuspecting female partners.

Jamaica’s attachment to the buggery law has so far been unyielding. However, the Delhi ruling creates a precedent that one day some courageous Jamaican constitutional court might follow. No doubt the protests will continue from those who have it on biblical authority that consensual same-sex behavior in private is a sin. However, it may be that concern about the spread of HIV/AIDS might shove Jamaica into the twenty-first century where human sexuality is concerned.

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