Not everyone’s island paradise

On June 18, 2016 The Economist reported:

Jamaica 3A RAINBOW flag flew at half-mast alongside the Stars and Stripes on June 13th at the American embassy in Kingston, Jamaica. It honoured the 49 people killed the day before in a gay club in Orlando. Marlene Malahoo Forte, the island’s attorney-general, took issue with the gesture. The rainbow banner was “disrespectful of Jamaica’s laws”, she tweeted.

Gay male sex in Jamaica carries a ten-year prison sentence, though the country graciously tolerates rainbow flags. The embassy tweeted back: “We’re listening. Explain the legal reasoning? It was an attack of terror !!and!! hate.” Ms Malahoo Forte later said she had been “misconstrued”. But the incident drew attention to Victorian sexual laws in a region that lures tourists with a free-and-easy image—and to the failure of attempts to change them.

Politicians in many countries admit in private that these laws are antiquated, and that openness is needed to fight HIV. But efforts to modernise them have flopped. In 2001 Guyana’s legislature passed a constitutional amendment banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, but the president blocked it. In a referendum on June 7th in the Bahamas, voters refused to ban discrimination by sex. Even though the proposal did not mention homosexuality, the “no” side, backed by fundamentalist Christians, warned that it might pave the way for gay marriage, and seems to have been widely believed. Caribbean governments have sought to block regionwide efforts to protect sexual minorities. At a meeting of the Organisation of American States from June 13th to 15th, Jamaica and Barbados formally objected to the gay-rights chunk of a human-rights resolution.

Frustrated at the ballot box, reformers have also been foiled in the courts. Belizean judges have yet to rule on a case they heard in 2013 seeking to overturn anti-gay laws. And on June 10th the Caribbean Court of Justice decided that bans on travel by gays can stay in place because they are not enforced. Ms Malahoo Forte’s own department is now preparing to fend off a challenge to Jamaica’s homophobic laws.

The political power of Caribbean churches frustrates gay-rights activists. Fundamentalist Protestants are well-organised and sometimes publicly subsidised. Politicians fear they can muster votes that can swing first-past-the-post elections in small countries.

Read more at: Not everyone’s island paradise | The Economist

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