william-h-johnson-painting
Painting by William H. Johnson

In recent weeks I have followed with shock and dismay as the discourse concerning the Rights and Freedoms Bill (Bill 6) of the upcoming Grenada Constitution Reform referendum has sunk to depraved depths. There are two elements that have been particularly sad to witness. The first is the indiscriminate spreading of fallacies regarding the bill itself. The second is the intolerance and hate that has dominated the conversation. I will discuss each in turn.

The key trigger that has fermented this homophobic discourse to once again and allowed it to rear its ugly head in our beautiful land is the inclusion of gender equality in Bill 6. Here is where the fallacies and an uncritical public have allowed this discourse to degenerate into what is at best illogical and at worst harmful for everyone involved.

The Rights and Freedoms Bill, while a legislative instrument, is actually written in fairly plain language and should therefore be accessible to most people without expert interpretation. As such, anyone who has taken the time and effort to read the bill will note that the section on gender equality deals exclusively and, in very simplistic terms, with the fact that women should be granted the same rights as men in society. A notion that seems simple and at face value even trivial to some, however, the reason why women’s rights need to be enshrined constitutionally is precisely because on so many levels women are not seen or treated as equals in society.

It is important to note that, in its entirety, the bill does absolutely nothing to open the floodgates, as its critics would have it, to the rights of sexual minorities (e.g. gender neutral persons) and, much less so with any regards to or rights of would be same-sex couples. It therefore beggars belief how some would interpret this portion of the bill to mean anything other than is written in the bill’s plain language. Knowing the prevailing views on homosexuality in Grenadian society, it is even more unlikely that those drafting the bill would have even contemplated to embed such a possibility in the bill in the first place – knowing full well that it would be politically untenable.

This particular fallacy acts as a double-edged sword, and herein lays the true tragedy. Not only do the detractors of Bill 6 ignore, if not diminish, the real issues facing women in Grenadian society but they also ignore the numerous other fundamental rights and freedoms that would be granted to citizens with the passage of this bill. They somehow see the element gender equality as so terrible, so evil that it may on the off chance lead to rights for sexual minorities, which it clearly does not do. In following this perverted fallacy, some are willing rob the rest of society and future generations of even the most basic constitutionally protected rights.

It is here that the fallacies concerning Bill 6 and hate for sexual minorities have mixed to spread like wildfire on social media. Hate is a very strong, visceral word and some of the comments made simply cannot be interpreted otherwise. Any reasonable human being reading such comments should be appalled, those writing them should be ashamed.

It is most unfortunate that this hate and intolerance is being driven, quite vocally in some cases, by a portion of religious groups in our society. The result is utterly paradoxical and perverted: In order to defend the rights of women and the fundamental rights proposed in Bill 6, one is placed in a position that requires detraction from the very rights of the sexual minorities that are not included in the bill.

This is where the unreasonable nature of this discussion becomes downright harmful. We must ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, what we value most. Are the rights of our mothers, daughters and sisters secondary to that of men in society, should their rights not be constitutionally protected? Do we not want the constitutionally protected right to speak to an attorney if arrested by the police? Should those who seek to rightfully challenge the people we vote into power not be constitutionally protected to speak freely without fear of retribution? Do we not desire to protect the vulnerable such as children and those with disabilities and ensure that the highest law in the land constitutionally protects them too? We are a small island nation with limited resources and we depend on our environment for virtually every part of our economy – tourism, fishing, agriculture, and construction. Should the protection of our environment not also be constitutionally protected so as to safeguard our future?

It is important to remind ourselves that these rights, on which as a society we are to vote, are not simply acts of parliament that can be altered or repealed by future administrations but rights that should become constitutionally protected for all. These are the very rights that are fundamental for a healthy democracy and socio-economic development. Yet, there are those who would gladly deny you, your wife, child or disabled relatives those rights on no other basis than fallacious arguments, intolerance and hate.

Written by Nicolas Winkler

Bill 6: Hate and Intolerance Must Not Win