By Alagie Jinkang
The debate about rights is unavoidably moral and spiritual questions and so governments must institute fairness in the goods they allocate and the virtues they [dis]honour or reward. We don’t have to go Aristotle to know that justice is giving people what they sincerely deserve. But actually, what is deserved here depends on the goods being distributed and the rewards they establish. And to which parties we might add? Most people would agree that LGBT Gambians are equally competing interest groups like heterosexual Gambian couples.
What happens if citizens disagree about the purpose of the activity in question -LGBT rights? Can we possibly reason about the purpose of social practices like polygamy and LGBT rights in the face of disagreement? But what really is the traditionalist account on the pressing contemporary issue of same sex marriages (dubbed LGBT rights)? What are the bases of their objections (if any)? Can the government remain silent on substantive moral issues? Whether you personally agree or disagree with my pro-LGBT cries, Gambian citizens are free to choose their marital partners, and the best for the state to do, is to negotiate between these conflicting claims. The role of the state, I think, is not to establish a morality that will reduce it in the first place.
The Gambian traditionalists are embarrassed with the present patterns of freedom and self determinism but have no conniving reason for their outlandish objections. Some will be mortified to give the real reason for their rejections. The state in this case can simply resolve these ghettoise traditional objections in [not] defining the purpose of marriage at all, and the moral virtues of same sex relationships on the one hand, or abstain itself from recognising any form of marriages and leave the business to casinos, churches, mosques or other private organisations.
But the real question is this: should The Gambian state recognise same sex marriages on the same bases as heterosexual couples? I believe sincerely yes and while we discuss on lifting the so-called unconstitutional and undemocratic ban on gay marriages and allow for civil unions or civil partnerships and the gradual legalisation of it altogether, The Gambian state must grant legal protections, rights to inheritance, rights to hospital checkups and even child adoption arrangements and other rights to ‘unmarried’ same sex couples (who might be living together).
This is not just a fundamental human rights discourse or (say) non-discrimination or freedom of choice per se, it is also an even more crucial debate about co-existence -redefining our moral and spiritual horizons in approaching issues that definitely matter such as the rights of vulnerable minorities. The Gambian government rather than sanction LGBT rights, it could simply decline all marriages as a state function and concentrate of improving the economic or positive conditions so to say, of ordinary Gambians.
The traditionalist account about the purpose on marriage, social institutions and the moral and religious virtues they uphold, reward or [dis]honour are rather so naive. For the traditionalists and the conservative secularists, the purpose of marriage (the heart of the conflict) about procreation and therefore, marriage for them is defined as a contract between a man and a woman.
The traditionalists and conservative liberals see marriage as a private engagement between two willing parties (man and woman) and the state is there to give public approval (as the third party). And therefore, according to this traditional account, gays do lack the purpose of marriage. This account is flawed for many reasons;
Hospitals, mosques, and churches in The Gambia never ask heterosexual couples if they are able to procreate or not. That’s if they are fertile or not. They just let them marry.
Heterosexual daddies or mammies in villages and towns, whether in Basse or Bansang, can marry without ascertaining their procreational potentials. Therefore, the state lacks any sort of moral authority to say the foundation of marriage is to procreate when it never established fertility as a condition of marriage.
The issue of procreation is and must be left to the autonomous region of the two consenting parties (man and man, woman and woman, or man and woman or three/four people who want to marry as in the case of polygamy). It cannot be the state’s function to establish procreation as the primary purpose of marriage. That’s not its business at all. The appealing conditions and the many discontents arriving from polygamy or heterosexual marriages: induced over dependency, teenage pregnancy, unnecessary procreation, domestic violence against the women, child mortality, abandoned vulnerable children whether in S.O.S or in some totally disconnected villages, interminable marriages, etc are enough over-withdrawals from the moral bank account we all share with Gambian LGBT.
In such substantive moral issues such as same sex marriage, the state must not leave it undiscussed as if it’s something lying ‘outside’ there. Instead, LGBT rights are lying ‘inside’ and within us and are definitely worthy of honour and state recognition as heterosexual relationships or polygamous marriages.
Our democratic public discourses about what might be a ‘good life’ cannot be exclusively guided by the traditional moral codes (relative absolute positions of the mosque and the church). Our laws should and can guarantee equal protection to all (LGBT). This will encourage mutual respect for all without ignoring the [ir]religious convictions of other citizens.
To live in a secular society taller than the Tower of Babel and noises then the exploding paradoxes of plurality, mean that we must be willing to live together, speak and share with fellow citizens without willing to convert them to our beliefs. The knowledge in our gods should be that, god lives in you differently as it lives in others and that through building institutions of civil societies and with mutual respect, rights, equality and autonomy to all, we can find our ways to individual salvation and dignity without having to follow either the dictates of the church or the mosque.
To resolve the issue of LGBT rights, neither the dogmatic secularists, nor dogmatic religious fundamentalists have any sort of monopoly over what is discussed or what becomes of ‘our’ culture.
And also let’s be clear on the issue of what appears right for politicians. Recently, or at least as I read the political atmosphere back home, what is right for politicians is so far what works for them rather than which goods or rights are allocated to ordinary Gambians. So I’m not pulling out the politicians from the moral equation altogether, rather, we must be able to distinguish what is morally right for The Gambia and what might be morally right for politicians and their propagandas for reelections.
We are a rainbow nation with equal rights and dignity for ALL.
Alagie Jinkang is a Gambian based in Italy pursuing his PhD. He is also the director of African and Afro-American Studies at the university in Palermo.