Dr. John N. Telesford a.k.a. Johnny
Lecturer and Associate Dean, School of Continuing Education, TAMCC and Research Associate, Institute of Island Studies, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada
The hue and cry in the media and by prominent persons and organizations in our society, on the Rights and Freedom Bill to be voted upon on Referendum Day 24 November 2016, has taken me by surprise. In this Bill, there was a concerted effort to enshrine the issue of ‘gender equality’, amongst many other fundamental rights (or so I thought), into the supreme law of this our Independent Nation. However, the persons and organizations that oppose the Bill, have come up with a ‘loop-hole’ through which they think ‘same sex marriage’ can be legalized. The other side of the argument, the side I wish to adopt, proposes that there is no relationship between the two: ‘gender equality’ and ‘the legalization of same sex marriage’.
In a two part series presented in previous issues of the Barnacle Newspaper, I suggested how the Bill can assist Grenada in supporting the implementation of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). In fact, in part two of the article I concluded that, twelve (12) of the SGGs can be supported by a ‘yes vote’ for the Bill, and that such a vote will only provide a more robust platform for their achievement. My encouragement to all INDEPENDENT THINKING GRENADIANS in that article was to seriously consider ticking “yes” for the Bill, so as to demonstrate to the global community, our independence and full support for the SDGs and the sustainable development of Grenada into 2030 and beyond.
My encouragement still stands, and to me the ‘loop-hole’ could be a figment of the imagination. Firstly, the definition of gender in the Bill, which includes explicitly the range of characteristics of male and female, will be referring to sex or biological differences, including internal and external sex organs. Therefore, this definition should not be confused with the masculine/feminine differences, which is usually associated with gender. So someone with known and explicit male characteristics, who wants to call himself a female or vice versa, has no ‘rights’ under the Bill, which uses sex or biological differences only, to differentiate male and female.
Secondly, it appears odd to me (a layman) that, the issues of same sex marriage and gender equality have become intertwined in such a manner. As some legal minds have pointed out, there is a ‘Marriage Act’ that governs marriage and who can legally be married in Grenada. Understanding fully that the Constitution is the supreme law however, still puzzles the mind as to how the definition of gender in the proposed change of the constitution, can be used to legalize same sex marriage. The question is: can same sex marriage still be legalized if there was no change to the constitution? As I understand it, two persons having similar male or female characteristics, who wishes to be married, could challenge this in a court of law at any time, whether the constitution is changed or not. I pray for long life to see how this issue pans out, as we deal with the changes that are occurring around us on a daily basis.
The Bill also contains many other critical issues that should be a part of our supreme law. These include: the rights to free education, the rights to clean environment and environmental protection, the enhancement of food water and health facilities, the provisioning of portable water and the rights of persons with disabilities. This therefore begs the second question: are we as INDEPENDENT THINKING GRENADIANS willing to sacrifice all these individual rights that will only result in the enhancement, improvement and development of our future society, on the cross of a ‘loop-hope’ (no pun intended)?
Fourthly, there has always been a ‘local’ clarion call for gender equality. Was this call actually made and supported without a clear understanding of what ‘gender equality’ meant? Sustainable Development Goal 5 reads, ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’. In my humble opinion, the equality of male and female was what I understood this to mean and still do understand it to mean. So are we risking going down the road of supporting discrimination in all its forms against all women and girls? Are we risking, not eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation? Are we risking, not eliminating all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage? Are we risking, not ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life?
In closing, the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) has been around for over five decades, Grenada has been independent for just four decades, and it is the first time that we as INDEPENDENT THINKING GRENADIANS have an opportunity to localize in the most fundamental legal manner some of the UN’s declarations. We also have an opportunity to individually support the sustainable development of Our Nation. Therefore, I urge that we look at this situation of the ‘loop-hole’ very carefully and make an informed decision that will ensure HUMAM RIGHTS, least we may find ourselves supporting HUMAN WRONGS!