By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
Posted: April 22, 2004
Some months ago, attending a wake in Tunapuna, John Smith (not his real name), a former colleague and principal of a primary school, regaled me in the following manner: "Yo' mean to tell me that two hard-back b…men have a right to get married." Taken aback by the violence of his feelings, I responded sheepishly: "Yes!"
The passivity of my attitude and the blandness of my response did not abate his anxiety. He continued: "So you are telling me that these two watless men have a right to share the same bed, hug up and make love the same way a man a woman as make love and you see nothing wrong with dat?" Again, I stammered, "Well, no!"
Spurred on by my passivity and seemingly indefensible position, he waxed theologically: "Let me tell you something. If God wanted two b…men to get married he would have made Adam and Steve not Adam and Eve." I had heard this argument before. I was yet to be persuaded. Necessarily, the force of this argument depended on one's belief in the mythical story of Adam and Eve and the claims of Christianity. I did not buy it.
Thereafter, we kept on tossing ideas around. He did most of the talking and the audience seemed to be in his corner. I am not sure that we resolved much that night since I was playing a losing hand. In a homophobic society with entrenched views of sexuality and correct moral behavior it is difficult to make any headway in a conversation such as this. As some folks say, it is difficult to talk about religion and politics without creating some enmity. One could add the topic of homosexuality to this mix.
Strangely enough, I was neither angry nor mad with my friend. As they say, I had been there before. I had come out of the same social environment and held similar feelings for a long time. In the fifties when I lived in Tacarigua I had my first encounter with homosexuals around the age of twelve or so when Gilbert Jessop, the Anglican priest, employed two homosexuals to work at the parish home. Jessop was unmarried and it was rumored that he was also of the same leanings.
Such rumors did not change my view of Gilbert Jessop, the son of a famous cricketer and a very generous man. He allowed the boys of the district to use the parish home to play table tennis and he played on the village cricket team. Sometimes, he played for the Tacarigua Orphan Home team and darned anyone to get him out. He is the first man I saw playing golf on the Tacarigua Savannah and hardly anyone beat him at table tennis.
I still see him as a good man.
But his two helpers declared their homosexuality openly. One of them would say, "I like, my man. If all yo' don't like it, well that's just too bad." None of us seemed to have resented his declaration. It all seemed exotic, daring and funny at the time. I suspect that Jessop knew about their sexual orientation. Since he did nothing about it one can conclude that he did not have much objection to their behavior.
In those days, we were not too averse, literally, to stoning homosexuals so much did they undermine our notions of our own manhood. I suspect the workers in Jessop employ were exceptions since they seemed so harmless. But our minds were made up. We knew that homosexuals violated the laws of God and stoning was a good enough punishment for them. I prefer to see those days as part of a stone age of intolerance and ignorance.
Leaving for the United States at the age of nineteen and attending high school and college there made me change my views of homosexuality. In 1986 when I began to teach at a Woman's College in Massachusetts my entire view on homosexuality became more nuanced and supportive. Apart from the protections accorded homosexuals by US law-one cannot discriminate against another because of his or her sexual preferences-I quickly grew to understand that people have a right to choose their sexual partners and to determine with whom they chose to spend their lives.
Very few persons at my College were hung up about these matters. Same sex couples lived together, lesbian students live out their sexual preferences openly and the school goes out of its way to respect the rights of lesbians and homosexuals. It is not even about the Clinton doctrine about "Don't show and don't tell." It is about a healthy understanding that adults must chose their lives styles and do what brings them spiritual and sexual satisfaction.
This is one reason why I welcomed the decision by the state of Massachusetts to marry persons of the same sex. Although Mitt Romney, the governor of the state, objected to the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to allow these marriages and the determination of President George Bush to offer a constitutional amendment to prevent these marriages, nothing could obscure the joy that close to 250 couples felt when they applied for their marriage licenses on Monday last. Outside Cambridge City Hall, close to 10,000 supporters cheered as this historic day became a reality and left its imprint on the consciousness of a people.
Cambridge itself took this historic event in stride and celebrated it lustily. At minutes past midnight on Monday morning after the first same sex couple applied for their license the mayor of Cambridge, Michael Sullivan, celebrated this auspicious occasion by cutting a wedding cake and drinking sparkling cider. Mary Bonauto, the legal director of the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, who brought suit that led to the decision to legalize same-sex marriages noted: "This is extraordinarily significant on the personal level, and for the history of our country. Our country has always promised we are all equal under the law, and tomorrow, more citizens will be equal under the law than has been the case to date."
Although I celebrate with those who have broken the taboo, acted as their hearts dictate and support this affirmation of the equality of all persons under the law, I recognize the strong objectives of my former colleague and his notion that the marriage of people of the same sex is sacrilegious. Perhaps it is not even sanctioned by God since there is no way one can know this for certain. I understand fully that Trinbagonians of my age have been taught, both at home and at school, that homosexuality is wrong. However, part of our growing up demands that we question such prejudices.
As a young man growing up, when one of my cousins became pregnant without the benefit of marriage she was sent to the countryside to have her baby so that she would not bring shame to the family. In the US, prior to 1967, it was against the law for a black man to marry a white woman. During the latter part of the nineteenth century when my great grandmother, a Portuguese, married my grandfather, a jet black Bajan, George Belle, her Portuguese family promptly disowned her. In those days, race mixing was a frowned upon social custom.
I expect the charge that none of these examples are relevant to the profoundly deep theological objections against same sex marriage. Yet, I cannot but feel that same sex marriages challenge some of our ingrained notions about social behavior and what is right and what is wrong because we are a victims of an ideology (in this case, a theological ideology) that we find so hard to break. Although I do not expect to change my friend's mind about the sacrilegious nature of "two b…men" getting married I hope that we begin to understand that we need to dump the needless prejudices we carry in our heads and in our hearts against gays and lesbians. Such prejudices are more conducive to physical and psychological harm than to our spiritual and social good.
I am sure that the time will come when we can speak about these and other such matters with greater calm and objectivity. I am sure that it will take a long time to convince friends such as Brian Moore that the sky will not fall because two people who are in love decide to seal their bond with the socially acceptable form of marriage. They are not likely to fear either better or worse than those of us who opt to marry persons of a different sex.
And yes, Peace be upon them.
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