Stubbs' gay sex bill wins MP's support

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A debate that split Bermuda ended early this morning as the House of Assembly voted to decriminalise sex between adult males.


A debate that split Bermuda ended early this morning as the House of Assembly voted to decriminalise sex between adult males.

Attention turns to the Senate after the House voted 22-16 to remove two sections of the Criminal Code that made consensual sex between men in private illegal.

But the private member's bill from the Hon. John Stubbs of the United Bermuda Party is expected to face relatively little opposition in the Upper Chamber.

"This has been one of the most interesting and exciting days in recent Parliamentary history,'' Dr. Stubbs said just before the vote in which Premier the Hon. Sir John Swan opposed his motion and Opposition Leader Mr. Frederick Wade supported it.

"I'm very pleased,'' Dr. Stubbs said later. "It was close, as we knew it would be.'' Mr. Peter Carpenter, spokesman for the Bermuda Human Rights Alliance, was congratulated by supporters in the packed public gallery. "I'm delighted,'' he said.

Earlier, Bishop Charles Foster Fubler of the Christian Coalition was ordered out of the gallery after he began shouting while Mr. Leon (Jimmy) Williams of the Progressive Labour Party spoke in favour of the motion.

It was clear early on that MPs would not agree to make 16 the age of consent for homosexual males, as proposed. Voting by their consciences, rather than party lines, they approved an amendment from the UBP's Mr. Trevor Moniz that increased the age of consent to 18.

The day-long session capped months of debate in the community, where feelings on the issue crossed racial and socio-economic lines.

Bermuda's religions were divided, with leaders of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches favouring the amendment. Leaders of the AME and smaller churches with mostly black congregations were opposed.

MPs faced intense lobbying, including letter-writing and telephone campaigns, from both sides.

Generally, proponents saw the bill as a human rights issue. Decriminalising sex between consenting adult males would end discrimination and respect their privacy. Opponents generally saw gay sex as a moral "abomination'' which should not be condoned.

In opposing the amendment, a religious alliance called the Christian Coalition staged marches on Parliament and prayer sessions outside the Sessions House.

The BHRA, which led proponents of the bill, ran a lower-key campaign.

A similar amendment came before the House in 1971 and was narrowly defeated in another free vote.

Mr. Wade questioned how the state could punish immoral acts.

While the BHRA had been "very reserved,'' Mr. Wade felt "those who are for retention have been trying to deny me my conscience.'' The PLP Leader said he was stunned by an attack on the Allan Vincent Smith Foundation by the Christian Coalition. "I don't care where a person gets AIDS,'' Mr. Wade said. "If they need a glass of water or a bed or medication, anyone who would deny that cannot speak to me about Christian values.'' Dr. David Dyer of the UBP attacked his Government for not bringing the amendment forward itself.

"There was a serious lack of judgment, and even cowardice,'' Dr. Dyer told the House. He called on black colleagues to remember the past. "Many of your ancestors were locked up for something they had no control over, and those doing it felt justified in doing it.'' In introducing the bill, Dr. Stubbs emphasised that gays did not choose their sexual orientation, and he pointed out that the United Kingdom had decriminalised sex in private between adult males in 1967.

But a large core of veteran PLP MPs, as well as Cabinet Ministers like Tourism Minister the Hon. C.V. (Jim) Woolridge, Transport Minister the Hon.

Maxwell Burgess, and Culture and Communications Minister the Hon. Wayne Furbert emphasised the moral argument.

"Bermuda up until now has been referred to as a paradise. Soon we'll be known as the fairyland,'' said Mr. Woolridge.

HOW THEY VOTED Following is the breakdown of for and against votes on last night's Stubbs Bill to legalise gay sexual relations.

FOR UBP -- The Hon. Pam Gordon, Mr. John Barritt, the Hon. John Stubbs, Dr. David Dyer, Mrs. Grace Bell, Mr. David Dodwell, Mr. Trevor Moniz, Mr. Rick Spurling, the Hon. J. Irving Pearman, the Hon. Quinton Edness, the Hon. Leonard Gibbons, the Hon. Clarence Terceira, the Hon. Jerome Dill, the Hon. Harry Soares.

PLP -- Mrs. Lois Browne Evans, Mr. Frederick Wade, Miss Jennifer Smith, Mr.

David Allen, Dr. Ewart Brown, Ms Renee Webb, Mr. Alex Scott, Mr. Leon (Jimmy) Williams.

AGAINST UBP -- Mr. Tim Smith, the Hon. Wayne Furbert, the Hon. Ann Cartwright DeCouto, the Hon. C.V. (Jim) Woolridge, the Hon. Sir John Swan, the Hon. Maxwell Burgess.

PLP -- Mr. Walter Lister, Mr. Walter Roberts, Mr. Eugene Cox, Mr. Stanley Morton, Mr. Reginald Burrows, Mr. Nelson Bascome, Mr. Dennis Lister, Mr.

Stanley Lowe, Mr. Ottiwell Simmons, Rev. Trevor Woolridge.

Absent -- the Hon. David Saul.

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