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Sunday 22 April 2018
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Commentary

The rainbow at full mast

A member of the LGBTQIA community celebrates Justice Devindra Rampersad's ruling that the buggery law is unconstitutional outside the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain last Thursday. PHOTO BY AZLAN MOHAMMED

SHARDA PATASAR

Earlier last week the rainbow flag flew at full mast outside the Parliament of the Republic of TT. One sign read "Claiming my sex choices affects your religion is like saying me eating a roti affects your diet."

It was a stand for reason to prevail.

It was the first time that the LGBTQIA community had come together in a solidarity stand against the state. LGBTQIA activist Jason Jones’ case against the Government challenging Section 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act, has been trending for a number of weeks. Religious groups had also seen it necessary to present themselves diligently outside Parliament with calls to keep the law intact. But on Thursday, on the steps of the Hall of Justice, the flag waved with happy abandon as Justice Devindra Rampersad handed down the ruling that marked a historic turn for TT and the Caribbean.

For those who missed it, some short excerpts:

“This is not a case about religious and moral beliefs but is one about the inalienable rights of a citizen under the Republican Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago; any citizen; all citizens.

“To this court human dignity is a basic and inalienable right recognised worldwide in all democratic societies. Attached to that right, is the concept of autonomy and the right of an individual to make decisions for herself/himself without any unreasonable intervention by the State. In a case such as this, she/he must be able to make decisions as to who she/he loves, incorporates in his/her life, who she/he wishes to love with and make a family with and not have to live under the constant threat, the proverbial 'Sword of Damocles,' that at any moment she/he may be persecuted or prosecuted.

“At this point, the court feels compelled to state, in conclusion, that it is unfortunate when society, in any way, values a person or gives a person their identity based on their race, colour, gender, age or sexual orientation.

"That is not their identity. That is not their soul. That is not the sum total of their value to society or their value to themselves.

“Racial segregation, apartheid, the Holocaust – these are all painful memories of this type of prejudice.

To now deny a perceived minority their right to humanity and human dignity would be to continue this type of thinking, this type of perceived superiority based on the genuinely held beliefs of some.

“This conclusion is not an assessment of denial of the religious beliefs of anyone. This court is not qualified to do so. However, this conclusion is a recognition that the beliefs of some, by definition, is not the belief of all, and in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, all are protected, and are entitled to be protected, under the Constitution.

"As a result, this court must, and will, uphold the Constitution to recognise the dignity of even one citizen whose rights and freedoms have been invalidly taken away."

Tears of relief and joy flowed punctuated by the inevitable anger of those who were standing against the verdict.

"The country gone through, it really gone through now," one passer-by lamented.

One lady kept chanting "You all going to burn in the fire," while condemning the members in the LGBTQIA camp (which comprised both gay and straight people by the way) as the masses walking on the "broad road to destruction." She was, however, standing on the "narrow road of good" evidently almost to the point of hysterics.

Religion has a way of making otherwise decent people into toxic presences. It makes irrational people out of otherwise rational men and women. I learned as a child that the true test of one’s character is when the going gets rough. And if the behaviour of the members of the religious camps suggests anything about the effect of religion on one’s decency, then replacing God with the idea of ancient aliens seems to be a good idea as of now.

Justice Rampersad proved that religion does not necessarily guide our sense of justice. His ruling was not about religion but about protecting human dignity. We should all be familiar with this sentiment. It is the one thing that unites us all. Think about the Black Power struggle. Embedded in that was also a fight against religious doctrine that believed that being black was sinful. Think about the time when religion decreed that equality for women went against religious doctrine. The religious argument has been used for too long as a tool for violence and oppression.

Thursday’s victory therefore was not just about overturning a law that was oppressive to a minority but it is also about the triumph of spirituality over religious doctrine.

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