Barbados to finally recognise same-sex civil unions in a major breakthrough for LGBT+ rights in the Caribbean


Barbados has finally agreed to recognise same-sex civil unions in a major breakthrough for LGBT+ rights in the Caribbean.

The tiny island nation has recently begun unpicking its colonial-era homosexuality laws in the face of growing criticism for its poor human rights record.

Although the government asserted that it is not yet allowing same-sex marriage, it has agreed to put the matter to a referendum and “be guided by the vote of the public”.

“Mr President, my government is prepared to recognise a form of civil unions for couples of the same gender so as to ensure that no human being in Barbados will be discriminated against, in exercise of civil rights that ought to be theirs,” governor general Dame Sandra Mason declared at the opening of parliament on Tuesday.

“The settlement of Barbados was birthed and fostered in discrimination, but the time has come for us to end discrimination in all forms. I wish to emphasise that my government is not allowing any form of same-sex marriage, and will put this matter to a public referendum.

“My government will accept and be guided by the vote of the public as promised in the manifesto.”

If Barbados wants to be counted among the “progressive nations of the world”, she continued, the country must change “how we treat to human sexuality and relations”.

She recognised that the move will likely attract controversy, and indeed there has already been pushback from within parliament.

Opposition senator Caswell Franklyn accused the government of sending mixed signals on homosexuality and suggested it was trying to “sneak [the legislation] through the back door”.

By recognising same-sex civil unions the government is encouraging people to break the law, he contended, because homosexuality is technically still illegal in Barbados.


The waterfront in Bridgetown, the capital city of Barbados (Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket/Getty)

“They have to stop this nonsense and think things through. They don’t speak to the morals of this country,” he told Barbados Today.

“Whether the Americans like it or not, whether the Europeans like it or not, this is Barbados and Barbados has certain values. Now if you want to change those values you must bring it in gradually to get people to accept them.

“You just don’t come and push it down people’s throats because you want to be seen hugging up your boyfriend and kissing your boyfriend down town. It is unacceptable the way that they are proposing to do this.”
He called for the government to announce a referendum on same-sex civil unions, not just same-sex marriage, and “let everybody join the debate”.

Thankfully the prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, appears to be more progressive on the matter.

In July she made clear that Barbados “welcomes all” as she invited foreign same-sex couples to live and work remotely on the island in an attempt to kickstart the tourism industry after the pandemic.

Alluding to the island’s anti-LGBT+ laws, she said: “This country, that has been forged regrettably in the bowels of discrimination, cannot want to discriminate against anybody for any reason. All must breathe in this country.”