Gay rights and unions . . .

The Attitudes To Homosexuality In Barbados report notes that there is legislative and, to some extent, popular support for the existence of “common law” marriage, which is essentially a state-sanctioned union of two people that does not have the blessing of any religious entity. The study therefore tested the extent to which there was public support for this non-religious marriage and moreover the extent to which this differed from gay marriage.

The comparison is important because the two concepts are similar, in that neither is perceived to have a religious or spiritual basis; but the state sanctions one, and not the other. As such this comparison provides a hint of the extent to which the religious factor contributes to the inclination to disapprove of gay marriage.

There is support for common law marriage among a clear majority of Barbadians (58 per cent), while 75 per cent disapprove of same-sex marriage. This difference demonstrates that there is no relationship whatsoever between the support levels for the two types of association and implies that the religious factor does not impact significantly on the lack of support for same-sex marriage.

There is also a possible implicit assumption that the fact that common law marriage is now legal, while gay marriage is still not could impact on this difference in support levels. If this were actually the case, it would mean that in the same way that support for the decriminalization of buggery “followed” actual decriminalization in the United States, it is also entirely possible that the support for gay marriage would follow if per chance the Barbadian Government were to pursue such a legislative change.

The next legislative issue to be explored was “gay rights” which was identified as an issue which the Barbadian  population might also have been confused about. Respondents were therefore asked what they understood by the term and thereafter if they believed that these rights should have been a priority for the Barbadian Government.

Figure 23 speaks to both issues and demonstrates that Barbadians have a clear understanding of the term “gay rights”. The single largest [group] of Barbadians (59 per cent) correctly identified gay rights as “the right of all persons to be treated equally regardless of their sexual orientation”, while 13 per cent believed that gay rights was about “two men or two women marrying”, and a minority (seven per cent) thought the term related to the “right to private sexual relations”.

figure 23

Although Barbadians correctly understand the term “gay rights”, a clear majority (66 per cent) also believe that these rights are not a priority for the Barbadian Government at this time.

Also related to the matter of legislative priority were questions relating to the possible preferred reasons for changing laws relating to buggery in Barbados, and these issues are presented in Figure 24. Respondents were given two possible reasons for changing these laws and asked if they believed that the reasons were sufficiently good, or not.

figure 24

It is interesting that in both instances the reasons offered were considered “good enough” by a majority of persons surveyed. This means that if the Barbadians authorities could demonstrate that the buggery laws were contributing to social and psychological problems among young people, or to the increased incidence of HIV/AIDS, they would be persuaded of a need to change the buggery laws.

Although the majority in both instances was above 50 per cent of those interviewed, the results also demonstrated that there is a resolute 17 to 21 per cent of persons who are not convinced that either HIV/AIDS or potential psychological damage to young people is a good enough reason to change.

Initially, respondents were asked about their support for the buggery laws “as is” and those responses were presented above and demonstrated that 54 per cent of Barbadians supported the laws in their present form. This question, however, correctly presumed the level of misunderstanding that manifested itself in later questions, and it was fortuitous that the question presented in Figure 25 was included.

figure 25

This question probed the precise “sexual offences” that respondents believed that the Barbadian state needed to regulate. It is clear that Barbadians generally believe that all varieties of public sex should be penalized by the state, but there is a marginally higher concern for the state to penalize “gay sex” (between two men or two women) than there is in penalizing public “straight sex”.

There is an almost similar concern that the state should penalize “group sex”, but it can be agreed that a statistically significantly smaller [number] of people believe that “straight sex” should be criminalized. In all other instances there was clearly a minority interest in the prosecution of private sexual intercourse (of all types), which demonstrates conclusively that Barbadians are genuinely more concerned about the state regulating “public” sexual behaviour than private sexual behaviour.

The data is compelling, especially since the distinction between “straight” and “gay” public sexual intercourse from the perspective of the public concern/abhorrence is not vast (although statistically significant).

On the side of private relations, the largest group, 31 per cent, wished to see the state prosecute private relations between men, while a statistically similar number of people believed that private relations between two women or group sex of any variety should attract the sanction of the state. It is curious that three per cent of people also believed that private relations between two persons of different sexes should be prosecuted by the state, and it is unfortunate that there was no effort made in the design of the survey to account for the conditions under which such legislative sanction would be appropriate.

There was also no effort made to draw to the attention of respondents, or factor into their assertions, the likely degree of difficulty that would be encountered if the state attempted to detect or regulate private sexual relations.

In further pursuit of the issue of legislative change, the questions contained in Figure 26 were presented, and these were somewhat more direct with respect to what persons wanted done with the relevant legislation in Barbados. In this instance one question was asked, and as such respondents could only give “one” option. The fact that there was no consensus and moreover 34 per cent were unable to give an answer suggested that either Barbadians were confused about the issue or preferred not to state their preferred option.

figure 26

Among those who committed themselves, the majority opted for the status quo to be retained; however it is striking that only 34 per cent of persons stated a preference for the status quo here, while 54 per cent supported the retention of the laws “as is” previously. It is also noticeable that 18 per cent supported what would essentially be achieved by decriminalization,
while 24 per cent actually supported decriminalization in the related question.

These anomalies speak volumes about the extent to which the bias towards retention of the buggery laws is a spontaneous reaction and is not necessarily supported by reasoned conviction.

Table 17 represents an attempt to determine the preferred priorities of the Barbadians authorities with respect to buggery as compared to other offences. In this instance, it is acknowledged that a sufficiently large number of respondents did not properly understand the question and this impacted negatively on its utility. The attempt was made to capture the respondent’s preferred priority on a scale ranging from “1” to “6” with “1” being of least concern and “6” being of greatest concern in two instances.

table 17

On the left is presented the preferred priority from the moral perspective, while the preferred police priority is presented on the right. Although the question was badly treated and as such, respondents avoided the lowest priority, it can be seen that there is least interest in adultery, while murder appears to be of greatest concern in both instances. Buggery and homosexuality are of slightly greater concern than adultery in both instances and thereafter incest.

The overall presentation demonstrates that homosexuality/buggery is not high on the priority list for Barbadians and is only of slightly greater concern than adultery, while Barbadians believe other offences such as rape, murder and child abuse are more immoral and should be of greater concern to the police.

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