Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

U.S. President Barack Obama has become the first U.S. President to come out (pardon the pun) and openly endorse gay marriage, and the story is having a huge impact. Jamaicans should pay attention to this debate.

The Obama administration has progressively become more openly supportive of gay rights, as seen by the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that banned openly gay people from serving in the military.

With the US president’s instructions last year that the treatment of gays should be a criterion for determining how aid is allocated, this issue undeniably affects Jamaica. The push to expand gay rights across the world is continuing, and the situation in Jamaica is on the agenda of many gay rights organisations, thanks to our unenviable reputation for homophobia, a reputation, by the way, that many Jamaicans think is unfair and unwarranted.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller may be able to deflect some of the negative criticism for a while, due to recent suggestions that she is promoting full civil rights for gays, but seeing that her press secretary recently admitted that she is doing nothing of the sort (which is what I said weeks ago), I suspect that it won’t be too long before  attention zeroes in on Jamaica again.

Gay marriage is an incredibly divisive issue and some states in the US are still flatly against it.

Same-Sex Marriage Rally
Same-Sex Marriage Rally (Photo credit: City of West Hollywood)

In 2005 the UK took the decision not to introduce gay marriage, but instead devised an institution called “civil partnership” which gives gay couples the legal rights enjoyed by marriage couples.

The administration is now having consultations, however, on whether to allow same-sex marriage in civil settings, but not religious ceremonies, a controversial move strongly opposed by church leaders and traditionalists. Gay rights campaigners aren’t happy with it either, maintaining that gay couples should be allowed to marry in church settings if they so choose.

So although the conversation here in Jamaica focuses on the most basic of issues, whether the law making buggery a criminal offence should be repealed (something unlikely to happen any time soon), we ignore the wider discussion taking place on the global stage at our peril.