KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Several church pastors in Jamaica led a revival meeting Sunday to oppose efforts to overturn the Caribbean country's anti-sodomy law and turn back what they see as increasing acceptance of homosexuality.
Roughly 1,500 people in their Sunday best gathered in a central Kingston park for a spirited religious service two days before a rare court challenge to Jamaica's anti-sodomy law. The island's Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearing on Tuesday a petition by a gay rights activist who hopes to challenge the constitutionality of the 1864 law under a charter of rights revamped in 2011.
The colonial-era "buggery law" prohibits anal sex and "gross indecency" between men, outlawing sexual relationships between consenting men. The punishment is 10 years in prison in Jamaica, one of several Caribbean islands with anti-sodomy laws enforced with strong backing from religious groups. Barbados, Guyana and Grenada are among the regional countries that uphold laws prohibiting homosexuality.
Some in the Kingston crowd carried placards saying marriage should only be between a man and a woman and others pumped signs into the air saying "Keep the buggery law!" A similar prayer meeting was held in the northern city of Montego Bay.
A religious group called Prayer 2000, led by the Rev. Naila Ricketts, spearheaded the meetings. Pastors spoke about the power of prayer and the need to transform Jamaica as petitions were circulated urging the government not to abolish the anti-sodomy law. A gospel music band performed while the participants enthusiastically clapped, swayed and sang under the hot afternoon sun.
"We need our politicians to know that we need them to walk the path of righteousness," said Eleanor Johnson, who said she traveled from Jamaica's southern Clarendon parish to participate.
Church of Christ pastor Leslie Buckland urged the crowd to pray for the conversion of homosexuals and lesbians. He said gay rights activists are trying to "take over the world" by challenging anti-gay laws in the courts. He said that once Jamaica's sodomy law was repealed, gay activists would "go back to the court to make it a criminal offense to speak against the homosexual lifestyle."
During a televised debate shortly before leading her party to a dominating win in 2011 national elections, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller called for a review of the law that would come in the form of a "conscience vote" by lawmakers. The information minister recently said Simpson Miller would soon take the matter to parliament.
Many people in this highly Christian nation perceive homosexuality as a sin.
Some say Jamaica tolerates homosexuality as long as it is not in the open. But gay activists say Jamaica is by far the most hostile island toward homosexuals in the conservative Caribbean. They say homosexuals in poor communities suffer frequent abuse and have little recourse because of anti-gay stigma and the anti-sodomy law.