The Second Emancipation and gay Bahamians
In the still fresh second decade of this century there continues to be a fundamental shift in humanity’s moral imagination with regard to respecting the dignity and advancing the equality of gays and lesbians.
In this decade and during this century, gays and lesbians will experience less prejudice and witness the end of discrimination on various fronts.
Fear-mongering accompanied by malevolent rhetoric are the eager co-conspirators of prejudice and bigotry, all of which gay and lesbian Bahamians continue to experience as targets of malicious attacks on their humanity.
It is unacceptable to publicly attack someone as a “nigger” whether from a public platform, in a blog, in a tabloid or in Parliament; in the case of the latter whether from a member on their feet or from their seat.
Similarly, it should no longer be tolerated when the rhetoric of intolerance is applied to gays or lesbians in these venues, with venom like “sissy” or the feminization of a man’s name.
Shamefully, in the vanguard of the hate- and fear-mongers have been clerics, decidedly not heaven-sent, but hell-bent on perpetuating pernicious stereotypes about gays and lesbians. Yet, God’s love will not be defeated by hate, even when it is disguised as defending morality.
Today, there is another awakening or epiphany in the arc of history which constitutes the second emancipation narrative of the Bahamian experience.
The second emancipation liberated black and white Bahamians from the deceits and conceits of racist ideologies. It liberated women and men from much of the legal codification of sexism and male supremacy.
Today, gays and lesbians rightly lay claim to the vision and values of the movements for racial and women’s equality which remain pivotal struggles in the living tradition and democratic tapestry of the second Bahamian emancipation.
Today’s struggle for equality will help to liberate many who hold prejudices against those who by happenstance have a different sexual orientation.
As with black and female Bahamians, gays and lesbians are not asking for special rights. They are demanding equality and social justice under the canopy of rights and freedoms enumerated in the constitution.
Those prone to proof-texting the Bible as they are the preamble to the constitution should know that the preamble is a hortatory prelude, but carries no legal force, nor is it dispositive in the adjudication of questions of various rights and freedoms. Indeed, despite the reference to Christianity in the preamble, freedom of religion is guaranteed in the charter of rights and freedoms. Perhaps some of those itching to amend and chisel into the constitution their prejudices and social exclusions, might wish also to dispense with freedom of religion for non-Christians.
One cleric infamously deployed incendiary rhetoric, referencing Guy Fawkes as a role model. Might there also be a grand inquisitor or two wishing to fuel a bonfire of their vanities and prejudices, perhaps using the constitution as tinder to help eviscerate certain human rights as protected in that very document?
Some question whether the struggles for equality by black and female Bahamians are the same as the struggle for equality of Bahamian gays and lesbians.
They are not exactly the same. But they are profoundly analogous and similar on democratic and ethical grounds, constituting a rainbow of promise or an arc of history concerning mutual human and civil rights, sometimes creeping, sometimes galloping, but ever bending towards justice.
Barack Obama’s second inaugural address was a plea continued from a preacher King in 1963, echoes of whose dream reverberate still, nearly half a century later, across the quilt of memorials, museums and marches binding the National Mall in Washington, D.C., from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol Building.
The cadence of call and response between the martyred preacher and the re-elected president resounded in Obama’s “Our journey is not complete”, a refrain of Martin Luther King Jr.’s plea for equality and “I Have a Dream”.
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” said the president.
The second inaugural of America’s first black president was more than an oath-taking. It was a pageant of the mythology and history of the American experience. Obama narrated the pageant with magisterial sweep, invoking the nation’s founders, and Lincoln and King, on whose bibles he swore his oath, as well as the now iconic triptych of Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall, referencing respectively the struggles for equality of women, African Americans and gays and lesbians.
Reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Obama used one of the highest civic rituals of the American Republic to recalibrate America’s cannon of equality by calling for the full equality and rights of gay and lesbian citizens to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Seneca Falls recalled the eponymous convention of 1848, an epochal moment in the struggle for women’s equality. Selma recalled the 1965 Selma, Alabama, marches for civil and voters’ rights.
In 1969 came Stonewall, a series of spontaneous demonstrations, the proximate cause of which was a police raid on a gay establishment. Longstanding grievances of discrimination and harassment exploded into an event which was pivotal in “the modern fight for gay and lesbian rights in the United States”.
After the swearing-in, many wondered what Obama was imaging, as he paused to survey the National Mall when walking back into the Capitol. Whatever was in his mind’s eye, many imagined what he or they may have seen from that vantage point. The National Mall Obama surveyed stands witness to America’s own second emancipation. With the Washington Monument as its centerpiece, calling to mind America’s founding promises and original sins; the mall has been trod and sanctified by those who fought to bridge the gulfs of equality in America’s history.
The 1963 March on Washington at which Dr. King famously intoned his dream of equality was largely conceived and organized by the brilliant Bayard Rustin, both African Americans and gay, the content of whose character was foremost that of an American patriot and a drum major for justice.
Suffragettes and those fighting for women’s equality have also marched the mall. So too have gays and lesbians and their families, who formed a literal and human quilt in response to the HIV-AIDS crisis, a disease which never discriminated based on sexuality.
The Bahamian parallels to Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall are different by date and occasion, yet no less significant, including the vote for women in 1962 and majority rule in 1967.
For gays and lesbians, the calendar of emancipation has been more staggered. In 1991, The Bahamas, through progressive legislation by the PLP, became the first independent, former British colony in the Caribbean to decriminalize sexual activity by adult homosexuals. In 1998, in an extraordinary statement in response to a demonstration against a gay cruise, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham issued the most humane statement of tolerance and non-discrimination ever made by a Bahamian government.
We are on the cusp of another groundbreaking moment relative of the fuller inclusion of gay and lesbian citizens in terms of a fundamental human and civil rights issue.
Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett recently noted that the question of marriage for same-sex partners would likely come before the courts. Appropriately, he did not discuss his views on the issue.
He did note that the courts would likely review legal decisions from other jurisdictions, including the United States, where there are a variety of cases before state and federal courts, and now the Supreme Court.Sir Michael and U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts are Roman Catholics.
They appreciate that marriage is partly a religious institution. Yet, it is also a civil institution, and in the end, the question of same-sex marriage should be decided on this basis.
Those who do not want same-sex marriages performed in their churches are within their rights. Yet, the state has no right to ban gays and lesbians from exercising their civil right to marry, a right that should be challenged in the courts.
March 07, 2013