How same-sex roommates got left out


Back to answering Domestic Violence Act (DVA) questions. And how homophobic badmind and legislative smartmanship have left unrelated people of the same sex covered only if they’re intimate.

I was in the middle of explaining:

3. What does letting people under the same roof who aren’t related have access to an order of protection for domestic violence have to do with the sodomy laws? Or the savings clause? LGBTI advocates recognised that, in order to exclude us, others were being hurt by a definition, dating back two decades, of a “member of household” in the act. People with clear domestic relationships who deserved protections from the potential of domestic violence couldn’t access those offered by the act because you had to be legally related even if you lived under the same roof to be in an eligible relationship.

We proposed to our coalition partners and to non-government parliamentarians a really straightforward change to the bill — simply strike out that requirement.

But the Attorney General, his mind likely on elections, hearing the proposal from senators opposite, dismissed it with the jerk of a knee as “squarely rooted in the LGBT issue” and “ capture that.”

It wasn’t.

Sure, it would offer protection to a small group of same-sex partners who began dating members of their household while continuing to live together and who’d fallen between the cracks of the AG’s “Never mind my swastika up front, come een de back” approach.

But the amendment’s key impact was protection for roommates, non-blood kin, people living under the same roof, but not couples or family.

They continue to be punished by homophobia.

Answers to question three raise more questions, however: Did the PNM welcome the headlines it knew would follow rejection of measures seeming to protect vulnerable LGBTI people from violence? The headshaking condemnations by polite classes across social media? predictable newspaper editorials?

Was it a political game to win evangelical Christians’ votes? Signal tough-on-queers. Wink-wink. Did the party truly believe full-truth believers so dumb (or such literal readers) they’d never figure out same-sex relationships were indeed protected? That they’d miss Randall Mitchell’s comment?

I guess on August 10 we’ll see whether voters reward pandering to homophobia, or are offended by it.

The AG (and Jason Jones, someone he’s supposed to be opponents with in the two-year-old constitutional challenge to the sodomy laws,) both advanced a legal theory for his action. But it’s left most of us scratching our heads.

The AG anticipates the Privy Council eventually telling him whether Justice Rampersad’s judgment in that case stands or not, essentially whether it infringes the Constitution to discriminate based on sexual orientation — something he’s said repeatedly for years, 23 other laws (including ones about hotels and cinemas, all largely unenforced and, like even those Jones challenged, with little-to-no impact on daily life) also do. They’d all cascade (one imagines quite invisibly to people who don’t even know they exist) if Rampersad’s judgment were upheld. And he needs to wait for law about LGBTI issues (well, at least the LGB parts) to be settled in one swoop. One can’t pull at just one thread.

Well, the DVA is perhaps the one (of maybe two) of those 23 laws that actually has a potential real-world impact on people — their ability to get protection from violence in their own homes. (“Potential” because same-sex relationships are wink-wink actually now protected.)

The AG’s argument is if Government took a straightforward approach and agreed with senator Thompson-Ahye that same-sex couples are affirmatively (not just wink-wink) protected, then Government by implication has repealed the sodomy laws Jones is challenging, so courts will side with Jones. His obligation is to remain neutral, to preserve the Privy Council’s ability to settle the law.

The AG was “sure every lawyer in this room will understand what I mean.” But no senior counsel I found thought he made any legal sense whatsoever. Douglas Mendes put it in writing. Since the Parliament makes the law, and not the courts, the Government can decide LGBTI people are equal citizens in law. No one needs to wait for years for British lawlords to tell us that our Constitution compels us to treat LGBTI people fairly and equally. Legislators can tomorrow decide that issue. (Gabon’s parliament decriminalised homosexual relations last week, after criminalising them for the first time them a year ago.)

Unless, of course, there’s no political will to. And you want to be wink-wink forced to by an overseas court.

4. Why did ten senators abstain on the vote? On the Thompson-Ahye amendment (in her words, to recognise same-sex relationships for domestic violence protection), independent senator Dillon-Remy and all 14 government senators voted no. Independent senators Richards and Vieira, who’d circulated their own amendments to that clause, Deyalsingh and Teemal, didn’t take a position.

The Opposition bench also abstained en bloc, signalling they’d be willing to go along with LGBTI equality — but only if Government led the way.


"How same-sex roommates got left out"

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