LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday told former colonies that anti-gay laws once imposed by her country “were wrong then, and they are wrong now” and she offers to assist Jamaica in legalizing same-sex marriages.
The premier raised discriminatory legislation affecting same-sex couples, women and girls, in an address to Commonwealth leaders in London.
“I am all too aware that these laws were often put in place by my own country. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now,” she said in a speech to the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
“As the UK's prime minister, I deeply regret both the fact that such laws were introduced, and the legacy of discrimination, violence and even death that persists today,” she added.
Same-sex marriage is legal in Britain, but many countries have held onto legislation imposed by their former colonial rulers.
Globally, 72 countries criminalise same-sex relationships, according to a 2017 report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.
The organisation pinpoints British colonial-era legislation still being used in Commonwealth members including Uganda, Malaysia and Singapore.
May said her Government would back plans to scrap such laws: “The UK stands ready to support any Commonwealth member wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible.”
May's speech was met with applause, but her criticism of other countries' laws could cause a further rupture to the summit which has already been hit with a scandal over émigrés to Britain.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has apologized for the contribution her country made in the past towards the formation of laws such as those criminalizing same-sex marriage, adding that her administration is willing to help Commonwealth countries reform such laws.
She publicly made the offer to members of the Commonwealth, including Jamaica, during a Commonwealth Joint Forum in London today, April 17.
Jamaica’s prime minister, Andrew Holness, who shared the stage with his British counterpart, on Sunday told Jamaicans in Brussels that his government does not support discrimination against people who are LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender). Holness, however, did not state a position on same-sex marriage.
Prime Minister May, in her speech today, said: “Across the world, discriminatory laws made many years ago continue to affect the lives of many people, criminalizing same-sex relations and failing to protect women and girls.”
“I am all too aware that these laws were often put in place by my own country. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now. As the UK’s Prime Minister, I deeply regret both the fact that such laws were introduced, and the legacy of discrimination, violence, and even death that persists today.”
She further said: “As a family of nations, we must respect one another’s cultures and traditions. But we must do so in a manner consistent with our common value of equality – a value that is clearly stated in the Commonwealth charter.”
“Recent years have brought welcome progress. The three nations that have most recently decriminalized same-sex relationships are all Commonwealth members. Since the heads of government last met, the Commonwealth has agreed to accredit its first organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”
“Yet there remains much to do. Nobody should face persecution or discrimination because of who they are or who they love. The UK stands ready to support any Commonwealth member wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible,” Prime Minister May further said.
PHOTO: Prime Ministers Andrew Holness and Theresa May discussed a number of issues privately in London today before they both spoke at the Commonwealth Joint Forum. Photo by the Office of the Prime Minister, Jamaica