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By Wayne Campbell
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle
There is perhaps no other issue for which Jamaicans get riled up about than the subject of homosexuality or same-sex relationships. Jamaicans pride themselves as having a God-fearing country; yet Jamaica has over the years recorded the highest or close to the highest homicide rates for the last few years.
Jamaica has continued to grapple with the idea of moving away from its current form of Constitutional Monarchy to that of a Republic. Many Jamaicans continue to be incensed regarding a lack of apology from the British Royal Family to the Jamaican people concerning their fundamental role in the enslavement of Jamaicans, which lasted over four centuries.
The current government led by Andrew Holness recently announced the establishment of a Constitutional Review Committee which has been tasked to arrive at a way forward for the country to transition to becoming a Republic. In becoming a Republic, Jamaica would replace the British Monarch as the Head of State. King Charles III is the current Head of State for Jamaica. The Prime Minister named 15 members of the Constitutional Reform Committee who will oversee the reform of Jamaica’s Independence Constitution.
The Constitutional Review Committee boasts representation from a diverse cross-section of the society, which includes the Government, Parliamentary Opposition, the attorney general, constitutional law and governance experts, representatives from academia and civil society, along with a youth advisor. Interestingly, there is no representative of the Rastafarian community or other vulnerable groups in the society.
The omission of a representative from the Rastafarian faith is clearly an oversight tied to youthful exuberance. We must be mindful of the stigma and discrimination Rastafarians experienced in Jamaica, especially in the early 1960s. The discrimination to which we speak of still continues today, however, in a lesser and more subtle manner. The wider Jamaican society still has problems with the afro hair, and many of those in high societies with their processed false hair scoff at those who sport dreadlocks hair.
The actions of the government at the time regarding Coral Gardens in April 1963 in the parish of St. James marked a momentous watershed in the relationship between the Rastafari community and the State. That incident caused a massive state crackdown against Rastafarians. Three Rastafarians, three other civilians and two policemen died. As a result of the actions of the State against the Rastafarians, one would have expected that at least one member of the 15 should have been a Rastafarian.
The Committee is chaired by the Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Marlene Malahoo Forte. The other members are: Ambassador Rocky Meade – Co-Chair/Office of the Prime Minister; Dr Derrick McKoy – Attorney General of Jamaica; Senator Tom Tavares-Finson – President of the Senate and Commissioner of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica; Senator Ransford Braham – Government Senator; Senator Donna Scott-Mottley – PNP Opposition Senator; Anthony Hylton – PNP Opposition Member of Parliament; Professor Richard Albert – a Canadian constitutional law expert; Dr Lloyd Barnett – national constitutional law expert; Hugh Small – Consultant Counsel and Nominee of the Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition; Dr David Henry – wider society – faith-based; Dr Nadeen Spence – civil society – social and political commentator; Laleta Davis Mattis – National Reparations Committee; Sujae Boswell – youth advisor and Dr. Elaine McCarthy, President of the Jamaica Umbrella Group of Churches.
It is obvious that the Committee is heavily layered with lawyers; more than half of the members are of that profession. When we speak of an umbrella association of churches, it begs the question of whether or not churches of the Pocamania faith are included. This again brings into sharp focus the extent to which the Jamaican state is, given our propensity to exclude some elements of the society. In Pocomania, male religious leaders are usually called “Shepherd”, and in Revival Zion, the male leaders are called “Captain”. Female leaders are generally called “mother”. The movers and shakers in most societies tend to disassociate themselves from marginalized groups, which often have a genesis in Afrocentrism. The Pocomania faith is one of those Afro-Jamaican groups descended from surviving forms of African religion mixed with Protestant elements.
A constitution is the rule book for a state. It sets out the fundamental principles by which the state is governed. It describes the main institutions of the state, and defines the relationship between these institutions (for example, between the executive, legislature and judiciary). It places limits on the exercise of power and sets out the rights and duties of citizens.
Most countries have the rule book codified in a single document, known as a codified (or written) constitution. Codified constitutions are typically produced following a revolution (like the American constitution of 1787 or the French constitution of 1791); or total defeat in war (like the post-war constitutions of Germany and Japan); or a complete collapse of legitimacy of the previous system of government (like post-apartheid South Africa, or post-Soviet Russia); or the attainment of independence (like all the countries of the former British empire).
None of these things have happened to the UK, which is why it has never had cause to codify its constitution. Codified constitutions contain fundamental, superior law, and are harder to amend than ordinary law. Constitutional change typically involves approval by a super-majority in the legislature, or a referendum, or sometimes both. The Jamaican Constitution is in need of an overhaul.
Hypocrisy at a distance
Jamaica is commonly regarded as a Christian society. The time has come for us to revisit this notion, as all the elements of a secular state reside and are dominant in Jamaican society. As the church takes a laser sharp focus concerning the inclusion of Professor Richard Albert to the Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC), other essentials of a secular state have taken root and are now bearing forbidden fruits.
As we reflect on another Sunday afternoon, revelers have descended into sections of New Kingston and other parts of St. Andrew in their scantily clad, feathered, sequined outfits. Revellers of all ages can be seen gyrating and whining unashamedly as sweaty bodies melt into each other, creating an orgy of friends and foes.
There have been images from various social and traditional media sources showing some revellers dancing with at least one snake, a boa constrictor. We are aware of what a snake symbolizes in Christendom. The Sunday after Easter Sunday is now known as Carnival Sunday in Jamaica. In fact, the carnival period begins in earnest from Holy Thursday.
As we know, Easter is the most revered among Christians. The church has been rather hushed on the hedonistic and devil worshipping aspects of carnival which clearly are here to stay. Interestingly, Jamaica experienced an earthquake on Saturday, April 15th, with a magnitude of 5.1. Thankfully, there were no reports of deaths. Could this be a sign? Carnival worldwide is supported by the rich and powerful. At the Jamaica Carnival, we saw Hollywood heavy hitters, such as Chance the Rapper, American comedienne Jessie Woo, and fashion model Winnie Harlow, among the celebrities who flew into Jamaica.
Interestingly, many of these revellers are church members who can be called upon at any time to support various church programmes. Is there a conflict of interest? Is the church in bed with heathens? Is there a double standard somewhere? According to Kamal Bankay, chairman of Carnival Jamaica, the carnival contributed more than US$4 billion to the local economy in 2019.
Several local Christians have called for Canadian Professor Richard Albert to be removed from the Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC), claiming he has a distinct pro-LGBT and pro-abortion bias. Fascinatingly, carnival provides a safe space for members of the LGBT community to come out and mingle with those who do not share their notions regarding sexual orientation in a non threatening way. Albert, who is a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin in the United States, is a trained scholar of world constitutions, constitutional reform and constitutional replacement. The only non-Jamaican on the committee, Professor Albert, has previously worked with several countries in modernizing their constitutions.
The lawyer-heavy committee has been assembled to direct Jamaica’s transition from a constitutional monarchy to a republic and to advise what amendments or new laws may be required. Additionally, two of the local groups believe that Professor Albert’s inclusion is a crafty move by the Government to change laws relating to homosexuality. They have called on the Government to explain his involvement. However, the Minister of Information Robert Morgan countered this notion. Robert Morgan has said there will be no disturbance to the current laws on buggery and abortion as part of the pending reform of Jamaica’s Constitution.
Advocacy of a similar position
The Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society has expressed similar sentiments. In a recent television interview, the group’s advocacy officer, Phillippa Davies, questioned the inclusion of the non-Jamaican, especially given that his beliefs are opposed to those held by the majority of Jamaicans. However, there are those who are of the firm belief that the opposition to the inclusion of Professor Albert is not based so much on the fact that he is Canadian, but is based on the professor’s support for abortion and LGBT rights. The Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Marlene Malahoo Forte, in a recent radio interview stated that the grandparents of Professor Albert are Jamaicans.
Jamaica is not a real place
In recent times, the phrase Jamaica is not a real place has become very popular not only on social media platforms but in the daily conversations among Jamaicans. The terminology is usually made in reference to highlight that many safeguards which make a country a real place are absent from the Jamaican state. There are those who add that Jamaica is Netflix, a movie, a fantasy benefitting a particular segment of the society. Jamaicans have always been uncomfortable discussing sex. Sex and all elements of sex are taboo subjects. Unfortunately, many children learn about sex not from their parents or through the education system, but from friends or acquaintances. Many of us have internalized a culture of ‘wrongness’ with our sexuality and sexual orientation. We live in a patriarchal society with a toxic brand of hyper-masculinity where gender-based violence has been the norm.
There are many models which the Jamaican state can pursue in order to become a republic. Many of us are familiar with France and Haiti, both of which are republics. The people of Haiti were enslaved by France and had to engage France in a war to win their rights to freedom and in so doing become a republic. Those who are students of history will recall the Haitian Revolution began in 1791 and ended in 1804. The head of government is the prime minister, appointed by the president from among the parliamentary members of the majority political party.
1789 is one of the most significant dates in history famous for the revolution in France with its cries of ‘Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité!’ The French Revolution led to the arrest and execution of King Louis XVI and the removal of the monarchy. The President of France is directly elected by the voters. Elsewhere in the Caribbean, there are models such as in Barbados, which became a Republic in 2021. The Office of the President is largely ceremonial. The Prime Minister is Head of the Government.
The Republic of Jamaica
Jamaica is a prime example of a pluralistic society. Given Jamaica’s political culture and history, most Jamaicans would be in support of a ceremonial presidency. Undoubtedly, the overwhelming majority of Jamaicans are in favour of replacing the monarchy. It cannot be that the Head of State for Jamaica lives in a distant country where the citizenry is required to get a visa should they wish to visit. To add insult to injury, it is well documented that the British Royal Family had strong links to the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the enslavement of our people; this fact makes our current system of Constitutional Monarchy that more painful.
Post slavery Jamaica has been characterized by many things, one of which is our tendency to major in the minor things which sees us extending much resources on issues which are inconsequential. The Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs said that phase one of the reform process is to focus on the repatriation of the Constitution, abolition of the Constitutional Monarchy, the establishment of republican status and all matters with the deeply entrenched provisions of the Constitution for which a referendum is required to amend. The church is spending too much energy on this matter.
Societies worldwide are being challenged to address issues of injustice, inequality and exclusion. Pluralism involves taking decisions and actions, as individuals and societies that are grounded in respect for diversity. However, in respecting diversity, one should also respect the personal space of others. It cannot be that your right to fun and enjoyment infringes on other rights. The Jamaican people in the long run will decide the society they wish to live in and this will be done via a referendum. The road to Jamaica’s Republican status might have obstacles and hurdles; however, it is necessary to see this process through.
In the words of Thomas Jefferson, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.