EDITORIAL: As rational as can be
It is a sign of a maturing democracy that controversial issues can be openly discussed in a rational and tolerant way that focuses on the merits of the argument and eschews the emotional and vitriolic outpourings.
When these issues touch and concern our lives in an intimate way, it is all the more important, and at the same time more difficult to keep the lid on the boiling cauldron of debate.
There are in our country just now two such related issues being discussed in the public sphere. They are the promotion of values-based family life and alternative same-sex relationships.
The debate involves the church and the law in particular, but all aspects of the society are engaged by the rhetoric.
It is critical we remember at all times that Barbados is a democracy, and while we adhere to a set of core beliefs common to most of the religions practised in our midst, we are not a theocracy in which the secular law reflects precisely the national religious beliefs.
If that were so, we could be stoning adulterers and chopping the hands of thieves and removing the tongues of blasphemers.
We are instead a democracy in which people have rights, which ought to be exercised at all times, with due regard to the respect of rights of others.
In this context we take note of the sermon by Monsignor Vincent Blackett at this year’s ecumenical Independence Service. As a leading voice of the Catholic Church here, he disclosed that members of the Christian churches were very worried about the emerging definitions of family.
It was a way of alluding to the alternative family lifestyles of the lesbians and homosexuals among us, for their lifestyles are contrary to the prescriptions of the traditional religions, which generally support the relationships of men with women.
When Monsignor Blackett declares that “while we will do nothing at all to support any attack on the family . . .” he is expressing a mainstream view which will find major support among our people, for the family is the core building block of our society in whose bosom we train our children in the right way, and we inculcate the values which have held this society together and fuelled our national character and growth.
But when he goes on to say that “we would not in any way encourage persons to be disrespectful to people who are different, who are differently sexually oriented”, though on good ground, he is less likely to be similarly applauded.
And yet that is precisely the hallmark of a democracy. The vast majority of us are entitled to vigorously propagate and hold fast to our beliefs and practices on family life, but we must not allow the tyranny of the majority to be used to terrorize or to bash those of different sexual orientation, or different opinions!
Equally, those who prefer not to support these alternative lifestyles must be free to do so, and to raise their voices against promotion or acquiescence therein.
This is an issue in which the secular views contend with religous perspectives, and the lobby for amendment of the law is firmly opposed by those who resist such change.
But any rational solution cannot be the exclusive province of either view. In the final analysis, if there is to be any change in the law, however minor, that change must be determined by the sovereign will of the people, extracted after the most vigorous public debate. If the expression of the sovereign will, after due discussion, mandates that the law should not be changed, then so be it. The people will have spoken.
In the meantime, let rational debate continue!