Confusion over buggery laws
A report on a study of the attitudes of Barbadians towards homosexuality, prepared by the Caribbean Development Research Services Inc. (CADRES), was recently released, amidst revived debate on whether legislation considered to be anti-homosexual should be removed from the statute books. Today we publish part of that report Attitudes To Homosexuality In Barbados, that deals specifically with attitudes towards that legislation.
Generally this survey demonstrates that a majority of Barbadians are either tolerant or accepting of homosexuals, with the [number] of persons that could genuinely be described as “homophobic” amounting to approximately 17 per cent of the population. Conversely, 67 per cent of Barbadians are either “tolerant” or “accepting” of homosexuals, leaving 16 per cent unsure.
In 2004, CADRES undertook a similar survey on attitudes towards homosexuals in Barbados, and as such attitudinal changes can be compared across this timeline. Specifically, hate levels have remained constant between 2004 and 2013, with 16 per cent in 2004 expressing hate towards homosexuals.
Acceptance levels have risen dramatically from 17 per cent in 2004 to 28 per cent in 2013, while there has been a corresponding drop in the tolerance level from 46 per cent in 2004 to 39 per cent in 2013. It is immediately noticeable (both in 2004 and 2013) that homophobia or, alternatively, the tolerance of homosexuals correlates directly with age, sex and, to a lesser extent, place of origin and education.
As such, women, younger persons and Barbadians who were not born in Barbados tended to be more comfortable with homosexuals. Men and those who have been “less well” educated tended to be more homophobic. The general Barbadian’s reaction to the legislative environment that relates to homosexuals is to say the least, conflicting.
A majority of Barbadians support the retention of the “buggery law” (58 per cent); however further investigation reveals that many of these persons are both unfamiliar with the specific provisions of this law and when advised of the specifics believe it to be “illogical” in some instances. When compared to the study executed in 2004, there has been commensurate decline of support for the retention of the “buggery law”.
The percentage of support for its retention in 2013 has declined to 58 per cent from 87 per cent in 2004. Conversely, support for decriminalization had increased from six per cent in 2004 to 24 per cent in 2013. Notwithstanding, there is a clear resistance on the part of the population to “let go” of these laws, which a majority of persons believe are important . . . are “a fair and reasonable expression of our religious and moral standards”.
In this regard, it is interesting to note the population’s ability to separate “religion” and “state” as it relates to the propriety of “common law” marriage, while the state is presumed to have an obligation to project religious principles as it relates to homosexual acts.
Attitude towards legislation. The issues surrounding the Barbadian public’s attitude towards the laws that criminalize the act of “buggery” are complex and this study attempted to unpack these issues in a manner that would provide an appreciation of:
1. The extent to which there is public support for the laws “as is”;
2. The extent to which people actually understand what the laws “regulate”;
3. The extent to which people are familiar with and support the perceived objectives of the laws; and
4. The extent to which people are conformable with the unintended consequences of these laws.
Initially, therefore, respondents were provided with the following brief and simplified explanation of the Barbadian buggery laws: “Presently the Laws Of Barbados outlaw the act of buggery/sodomy, whether between two men or a man and a woman, and regardless of whether this act is in public or private, consensual or forced.”
Respondents were then asked if they supported the law and the responses, and relevant correlations are presented in Figure 18. These demonstrate that 54 per cent of Barbadians support the law “as is” and therefore oppose decriminalization. In an effort to contextualize this level of support, attention is drawn to Figure 20 that consolidates support for similar American laws drawn from Gallup Polls between 1977 and 2010.
Although the questions asked are not identical and neither is (was) the legislative environment, the proximity of these two data sets help to facilitate a useful analysis. Generally, it can be seen that in the United States public opinion has moved from a similar level of disapproval as that which currently exists in Barbados to a place where there is now majority support for decriminalization (or lack of support for re-criminalization).
It is interesting that in 2004 the level of opposition to decriminalization was considerably higher (87 per cent) and implies that Barbados has become a more tolerant society. Support for decriminalization was six per cent in 2004, while in 2013 it has increased to 24 per cent, which indicates that Barbados has become more progressive in its attitudes towards decriminalization.
The figure below shows Barbadians’ support for and against decriminalization of homosexual acts in 2004, compared to that of 2013.
It is important to stress here that respondents were “forced” to comment on the laws “as is”, and the responses to later questions suggest that some respondents were somewhat confused regarding the reality of the legislation as distinct from what they believed it to be, and this could have impacted on the level of support or opposition captured in this survey. It can be seen however, that a clear majority of Barbadians (54 per cent) in 2013 support the laws and 24 per cent support some change, while 22 per cent preferred not to comment, and could perhaps reflect a lack of clarity on what the laws say and intend.
The correlations associated with this question are interesting, since age is clearly a factor that impacts on support for the laws, and it is not surprising to note that older Barbadians are more inclined to support the laws. In this instance, there are almost similar [numbers] of males and females expressing support for, or disapproval of these laws, with females being less inclined to support the maintenance of the laws.
In this instance, party support data is used as a basis for comparison, and demonstrates that while all party groups support the retention of the legislation, the [Democratic Labour Party] DLP supporters were more inclined to support that retention than [Barbados Labour Party] BLP supporters. Similarly, BLP supporters are more inclined to support decriminalization than DLP supporters.
CADRES has some familiarity with the demographics of party support and notes that the DLP cohort of support at this time is older and presumably this reality has impacted on support for decriminalization. Having established that there was support for the laws “as is”, respondents were advised that the laws were not being enforced and various related issues explored, which are reported on in Table 16.
Generally it is noticeable that in all instances the level of uncertainty either approaches 20 per cent or one quarter of respondents. This is high for a social survey and suggests that Barbadians have not given the types of details explored in this survey sufficient thought to arrive at a definitive position. Simply put, persons might believe themselves to be supportive of laws, but when presented with an explanation of these laws and asked to explore related issues, Barbadians become less certain.
Almost half of Barbadians (46 per cent) argue that the state “ought” to start enforcing the buggery laws in the current form and likewise 46 per cent of respondents felt the laws “make sense”. Against this background, the suggested “punishment” for offenders is directly relevant and respondents were therefore asked what punishment they believed was suitable for someone convicted of buggery.
In this instance, respondents were not advised what punishment was presently applicable to buggery, but were given a mix of options. The single largest [block] (31 per cent) which does not represent a majority of Barbadians were unsure about the appropriate penalty, while 21 per cent preferred a medium-long mandatory prison term, and the third largest group (12 per cent) opted for the death penalty.
It should also be noted that if the data in this section are cumulatively examined, it becomes evident that there is substantial confusion among Barbadians regarding these buggery laws, what they state, what they intend and what is prohibited. Notwithstanding, almost 44 per cent are prepared to support custodial punishment (or worse) for the offence, while 67 per cent of Barbadians consider themselves either “tolerant” or “accepting” of homosexuals.
Against this background of confusion it was appropriate to ask respondents why (they believed) the buggery laws were in place or what was the rationale behind these laws. In this instance, respondents were asked a “closed-end” question and provided five potential options which were suggested by the survey design team. Respondents were asked to identify the option that appeared to be closest to their opinion of the rationale behind the buggery laws.
This question was especially relevant since in the foregoing it was noted that the laws are not currently being enforced, but a majority of Barbadians want them retained. In each instance, respondents were given a list of possible options and asked to say “Yes” or “No” to each potential reason, and it should be noted that respondents were asked to comment on all five options presented in Figure 21.
Among the most popular options were the belief that the laws were important because [they represented] a “fair and reasonable expression of moral and religious standards”, followed by “a fair and reasonable expression of our moral standards”, and thereafter the belief that the laws were important from a “public health” perspective.
Over one third of respondents felt that the laws were important because they “protect young people from abuse”, while the least popular rationale was the suggestion that these laws helped to “stop the spread of homosexuality”.
The cumulative assessment of this question should be made against the background of an assumption that none of these responses were “correct” and indeed some of them quite absurd, but were deliberately inserted to test extent of prevailing propaganda. Notwithstanding, there was support among a substantial section of the population for all of these assumptions, which demonstrates that in the absence of a clear appreciation of the reasons for the existence of buggery laws, Barbadians have fabricated a rationale for the existence of laws which a majority support its retention.