SENATE Chief Whip Subhas Panday and Independent Senator Corrine Baptiste-McKnight on Wednesday clashed over calls for compensation paid to spouses/cohabitants, now also be paid to gay/homosexual couples. Panday said such a move violates a scriptural rebuke, while Baptiste-McKnight suggested such thinking was old-fashioned.The Trinidad and Tobago Senate on Wednesday debated the Statutory Authorities (Amendment) Bill 2011. This Bill proposes to let the spouse of a deceased employee of statutory bodies such as the country’s four municipal corporations — Port-of-Spain, San Fernando , Arima and Point Fortin — be paid one month salary, as done for civil servants.
Finance Minister Winston Dookeran, in piloting the Bill, got no opposition in extending this compensation from civi
l servants to statutory authority staff, and extending it from married couples to common-law couples. Common-law rights already exist in the Cohabitational Relationship Act, Administration of Estates Act and Status of Children Act, he assured. However the controversy began when Independent Senator Dr James Armstrong, a retired town planner, proposed that gay/homosexual couples also be given such spousal rights.
He said it is antiquated for the Bill to define cohabitants as merely being “of the opposite sex”, but said this beneficiary should be left to the employee to determine. At that, about three Government Senators shouted their support for Armstrong, who was also applauded by Opposition Senator Terrance Deyalsingh, among others. Armstrong urged the Senate in its later committee stage to excise the Bill’s reference to “opposite sex”, saying same-sex persons live together. He noted the United Nations Declaration on Sexual Orientation, plus a similar document of the Organisation of American States (OAS). “We need to bring our thinking in line with what is happening in the modern world,” ended Armstrong. Deyalsingh agreed, saying he had been loathe to raise the “very serious issue” raised by Armstrong.
“I would like to suggest that, as Trinidad and Tobago further develops, sometime in the future we are going to have to grapple with the issue of same-sex union,” Deyalsingh said. “Maybe not in this Parliament, but as the law progresses and as societal values change, that is something that a future Parliament cannot escape from.”
Baptiste-McKnight lent her support to Armstrong. She said, “Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and a lot of same-sex people got roses from same-sex people, in this Trinidad and Tobago . It is an issue, as we have just been told, with which we have got to start grappling.”
She lamented the Bill sought to “cut and paste” the provisions of the Civil Service Act (chapter 23:01) to the current Bill (24:01).
“As it stands, you are entrenching, in a day and age when the laws and recognition of facts are moving in a direction which you seem to be bucking,” she said, urging Senators to take another look at the issue of same-sex partners. As she spoke, Panday rose and asked her to give way.
He said, “Section 52 in the Book of Leviticus.” Baptiste-McKnight, perplexed, said, “What? Section 52 in what?” Panday, a Hindu, repeated, “The Book of Leviticus”.
Baptiste-McKnight, comprehending but wanting to convey her annoyance, said, “In what?”. Panday replied, “In the Book of Leviticus.” Baptiste-McKnight, feigning misunderstanding, mocked, “Who?” Senators murmured aloud. “Let me tell you something,” said Baptiste-McKnight to the bemusement of some Senators. “Leviticus is a Christian something, that existed long ago. We are here today, and if you want to go back to Leviticus now, there are many, many occasions on which I will take you not only to Leviticus, but to the Ark. Back to the Ark , right”. “So you are playing fast and loose. You are getting into insolicitous language. Don’t do that, with me. My thing is the English language”.
Based on research undertaken by AIDS Free World, Gay Rights Campaigner, Maurice Tomlinson, implementation of such a reform to public sector compensation benefits may be at odds with the legal standing of same sex male couples in Trinidad and Tobago. Buggery is still a crime in Trinidad punishable by 25 years imprisonment.