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Jamaican LGBT+ couples want same-sex marriage and may win it in court

Jamaican LGBT+ couples want same-sex marriage and may win it in court

  • Jamaica still criminalizes gay sex but legal same-sex marriage could come soon.
Maurice Tomlinson and his husband on a beach.

In 2018, when I filed my challenge to Jamaica’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, I had very personal reasons for doing so.

I wanted to return to the island to care for my aged and ailing parents and I needed my husband to join me. His emotional and financial support would be crucial during the difficult days ahead.

However, our nine-year Canadian marriage is not recognized by Jamaica and so my husband will not qualify for the right to live and work in the country.

This would basically leave me alone to face one of the most daunting tasks of any family, supporting our elders in their declining years.

When I filed the case against the marriage-equality ban, I felt very isolated. I did not think that many LGBT+ Jamaicans cared about marriage. Their focus seemed to exclusively be on repealing the archaic anti-sodomy law.

Frankly, I couldn’t blame them. That oppressive British colonial legacy contributes to horrendous acts of homophobic violence and persecution against LGBT+ citizens.

But I soon became aware that many other queer Jamaican couples have been suffering in silence because of this prohibition against their relationships.

Not only does the ban discriminate against these couples, but it also gives licence for sometimes deadly attacks against them and their children.

The lesbian couple who had to flee a gunmen about to kill them

There were already multiple stories of Jamaican mobs invading the homes of gay partners and forcibly ejecting them or worse murdering them while they slept.

Even when police were called to the scenes of these heinous crimes, no one was ever arrested. And so, the attacks continued unabated.

In addition to these extreme cases, many other couples are enduring untold misery because of the ban.

Below are a few examples of people who shared their painful stories with me on condition that they remain anonymous. The safety of their family members demands this invisibility.

‘A’ and ‘B’ are lesbians who lived together for two years while raising B’s daughter. However, when the child’s father found out about their relationship, he sent armed gunmen to kill the women because he did not want his child exposed to ‘that lifestyle’.

Luckily, A and B got a tip off about the hit and managed to flee the country. They are now seeking asylum in the US.

‘C’ is a lesbian and has been in a committed relationship with her partner ‘D’ for over five years.

Had they been heterosexuals their relationship would be legally recognized as a common-law union. That carries most of the rights of marriage.

Instead, the ban makes them legal strangers, despite their years together. Moreover, both women are worried that they will not be able to care for each other in case one of them is medically incapacitated.

They also don’t have inheritance rights. They can’t qualify for each others’ National Insurance pension. And while their private health insurance plan conceded to recognize their relationship, they have no guarantee that this will be done in the public health care system.

No chance of a family in Jamaica

‘E’ is a gay Jamaican who fled the country and now lives with his husband in the UK. On their only visit to the island as a couple, men hurled rocks and homophobic slurs at them, simply because they were walking together.

Five years ago, they adopted a son and are planning to adopt another child.

Of course, that would be impossible in Jamaica. Our Adoption Act allows married couples to adopt. But since the law doesn’t recognize gay relationships, gays cannot become parents.

This is even though Jamaica has hundreds if not thousands of children languishing in state care. Meanwhile, multiple studies have shown that children raised by same-sex parents perform just as good as, and sometimes better than children raised by straight couples.

The daily abuse and hurt must end

We are just some of the many Jamaicans in same-sex relationships who have been denied our right to family by this unconscionable and unnecessary ban on recognizing our unions.

As humans we deserve better. As citizens we demand better. Our families matter too.

In response to my case, the Jamaican government basically argued that a ban on same-sex unions including marriage is valid because most people support it.

By that flawed logic blacks would still be riding at the back of the bus!  Human rights cannot be subject to the whim of the majority. Then they are not rights, but privileges. 

I have now submitted my reply to the government’s spurious arguments. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will review the case. I hope it decides to hold a hearing soon.

Every single day Jamaican LGBT+ families endure discrimination and abuse because of the ban. It is time to end this injustice. Now. Before anyone else is hurt.

Maurice Tomlinson is a Jamaican lawyer and LGBT+ activist. He and his partner live in Canada.