In a landmark ruling which has reverberated across the world, the U.S. Supreme Court last Friday redefined and broadened the traditional concept of marriage. By a 5-4 majority vote, America’s highest court determined that the right to marriage would be no longer limited to a man and woman, as it has been for thousands of years, but extended equally to same sex couples, both male and female.
The ruling represents a major victory for the gay rights movement in its global campaign to end discrimination against gays, lesbians, transgender and bisexual persons. On the other hand, it is a major disappointment for the religious community, especially the evangelical Christian right which had fought tooth and nail in defense of what they consider the sanctity of traditional marriage, based on their understanding of the Bible.
The reality is that the role of the law courts, in a secular society such as America and ours, is not to rule on the morality of an issue. It is to interpret the law and, on this basis, make a determination of cases brought for hearing. A role of religion, on the other hand, is to speak on the morality of an issue based on interpretation of Scripture. While religious adherents have the freedom to stand up for what they believe is morally right, they have no right in law to impose their views on others.
Interestingly, the U.S. ruling was delivered the same week that leading gay and lesbian rights activist, Donnya Piggott, was internationally recognized for her crusade to end discrimination against the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The founder of the Barbados Gays and Lesbians against Discrimination (B-GLAD) received the Commonwealth youth award for leadership on the issue from Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.
Such recognition is significant because it means the struggle for LGBT rights in Barbados and the Caribbean, by extension, has received international attention and support. In light of the U.S. ruling and the known pro-LGBT rights stance of Canada and most European governments with which the Caribbean has longstanding relations, regional countries with laws seen as discriminatory against LGBTs, can expect more international pressure to enact LGBT-friendly legislation which conforms international human rights norms.
As much as the region may shout its opposition from the mountain tops, the fact of the matter is that when it comes to effectively standing up against the major Western powers, regional countries are powerless and therein lies our vulnerability. We are not islands unto ourselves, as some would have us believe. Because of the historic openness and dependence of our economies, we have always relied in large measure on economic exchanges with these countries for the quality of life we enjoy. Just a tourism boycott of Caribbean countries could be devastating.
We may very well be forced to accept that which goes against our religious and moral teaching. For as much as Caribbean public opinion remains overwhelmingly in favour of the death penalty, we have had to back off from its application because of international pressure? Predictably, the same too will happen with respect to LGBT rights. It could only be a matter of time before recognition of LGBT rights, becomes tied, for example, to a critical issue like debt relief in the not too distant future.