The leader of Jamaica's sole gay rights group said Tuesday that some ruling-party candidates have aggressively played to anti-gay constituents by resorting to homophobic rhetoric in the final days of the campaign for this week's national elections.
Dane Lewis, executive director of the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, said Jamaica Labor Party candidates have "unfortunately descended into pulling the sexuality card" in advance of Thursday's tight vote.
"It's been disappointing that they've chosen this road yet again because it seems to historically be their stance during campaigning," said Lewis, adding that his group is not endorsing any political party.
Politicians have routinely railed against homosexuals in Jamaica, where a colonial-era sodomy law bans sex between men and many people in the highly Christian nation perceive homosexuality as a sin.
But during a debate last week with Prime Minister Andrew Holness, opposition chief Portia Simpson Miller called for a review of the law. She argued that professional competence, not sexual orientation, will determine who is selected for a Cabinet post if her People's National Party wins.
Since then, some top Labor candidates have made homophobic comments at political rallies, among them Cabinet minister Daryl Vaz, who said "God created Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve," prompting applause and anti-gay slurs from his West Portland constituents.
Labor's candidate for West Central St. James, Energy Minister Clive Mullings, asserted that easing up on laws against homosexuality would bring God's wrath down on Jamaica, while West Kingston candidate, Kingston Mayor Desmond McKenzie, used an epithet at a rally while an anti-gay dancehall song played.
In a Sunday editorial, the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper called the recent developments "not only sad, but dangerous."
"Some might add cynical and vulgar."
On Tuesday, the opposition People's National Party stressed that Simpson Miller's comments were being distorted by Labor partisans. They said the party is committed to a review of the anti-sodomy law, not its repeal.
Peter Phillips, campaign director for the People's National Party, rejected allegations by Vaz that the opposition had received funding from any international gay rights groups, asserting that Simpson Miller's party in no way supported "any gay agenda."
It is not yet clear if either side's recent comments about homosexuality and the sodomy law will hurt their chances in Thursday's election for the island's 63 seats in Parliament. Recent polls have shown the two main parties in a statistical dead heat.
Despite the easygoing image propagated by the island's tourist boards, Jamaica is by far the most hostile island toward homosexuals in the already conservative Caribbean, gays and their advocates contend.
Many Jamaicans insist hostility toward gays is blown out of proportion by gay activists. Some say Jamaica tolerates homosexuality as long as it is not openly displayed.