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Our traditional family

Peter W. Wickham

Our traditional family

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It was difficult to miss some of the comments attributed to our distinguished Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite during the Budget Debate that were clearly directed at me, along with specific members of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition and our “friends” in the international community.  
The comments were not dissimilar to those made by him on this issue previously, but it is perhaps fortuitous that on this occasion he expanded his thesis and assured us that he spoke on behalf of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in this regard. This type of information is particularly useful in a situation where we will go to the polls shortly and several of us live in marginal constituencies (like the attorney general’s) and might still be confused regarding our voting intention.
In his consummate political naivety, he might believe that by making such statements he is appealing to such marginal voters. However, I would advise him to reflect on the closing section of my article entitled Jamaica Review published last January. I suggested then that the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) notorious anti-gay stance was perhaps not an issue that could help them to win the election, but it clearly helped them to lose it.  
Although I am confident that neither the attorney general nor any other member on that side will be guided by my professional opinion, he might want to consider the extent to which his administration is in many ways facing a fate that is similar to that of the JLP and he might therefore not want to be unnecessarily alienating voters at this time.
Politics aside, one should also note the extent to which Mr Brathwaite “accidentally” misrepresented the human rights concerns which I raised initially and were later mentioned by British Prime Minister David Cameron at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit. To be sure, I was and continue to be concerned about discriminatory laws which speak to specific “homosexual acts”. My views are consistent with those of Cameron who also believes that a civilised, developed country ought not to discriminate against its citizens. This was the context of my comments and clearly also Cameron’s and at no time did either of “us” argue that Barbados should allow or encourage “same-sex marriage”, and the attorney general knows this.  
I can only assume that in his enthusiasm to play to the presumably large gallery of Barbadians who are offended by the growing popularity of same-sex marriage in an ever-expanding list of developed countries, he has confused decriminalisation with marriage. It needs to be stated and restated for the avoidance of doubt that same-sex marriage is not an agenda item for this or any other human rights advocate in this region (to the best of my knowledge), and Mr Brathwaite does himself and the DLP no favours by speaking to an issue that is not on the table at this time.
Inasmuch as he has put the issue of traditional versus alternative families on the table, I am afforded the opportunity to expose a myth that he and others here appear to be deluded by regarding our “traditional family structure”. His suggestion that the DLP would not be condoning families comprising two men or two women, with or without children, is illogical at best and worrying at worst since in reality people decide their family structure and NOT governments. Hence he might be surprised to note that several of the families President Obama spoke of knowing personally already exist in Barbados.  
These have existed since “Adam was a lad” and will continue to as long as people have the freedom to choose their partners in much the same way that all the members of the DLP have done. Certainly, President Obama was making reference to same-sex couples, but several of us can recall Barbadian families where a child or children were “raised” by two women who might or might not have been related and who were not intimate, but nonetheless lived together. The attorney general is presumably not concerned about the living arrangements that do not involve intimacy, so one should wonder why exactly is he concerned about the ones that do.
He therefore needs to be careful that he does not offend the large number of Barbadians who live in apparently non-traditional arrangements. Moreover, he needs to be careful he does not seek to act legislatively in a way that offends the tremendous strides that have been made with respect to such arrangements.
Of specific concern here is the Family Law Act that I fully appreciate the DLP had nothing to do with, but which gives legislative “sanction” to that which is referred to as “living-in sin”.  The act became necessary because the Barbados Labour Party appreciated the extent to which these arrangements are popular here and as such, family members were vulnerable in several ways. The letter of this law is well known, but the spirit of it also needs to be understood since it is essentially a statement that we in Barbados already recognise non-traditional families.
In support of my arguments I refer those who are interested to one piece of research that CADRES conducted on behalf of the National Council on Substance Abuse (2000) among “at risk” youth. We asked them “who they lived with” and the top 14 results are presented in tabular form here. There were more than 100 combinations and permutations in that survey, something which speaks volumes about the rarity of the attorney general’s traditional family.
• Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).