Cabinet rejects making sexual orientation protected under Human Rights Act

Former Minister Dale Butler's proposal to ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was rejected by Cabinet, Culture Minister Neletha Butterfield revealed yesterday.

Ms Butterfield told a Throne Speech press conference the idea of adding sexual orientation as a protected ground under the Human Rights Act is "still being actively investigated".

Three days earlier, Government had outlined in the speech that the Act would be amended to ensure that "no person is discriminated against in Bermuda".


Former Minister Dale Butler's proposal to ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was rejected by Cabinet, Culture Minister Neletha Butterfield revealed yesterday.

Ms Butterfield told a Throne Speech press conference the idea of adding sexual orientation as a protected ground under the Human Rights Act is "still being actively investigated".

Three days earlier, Government had outlined in the speech that the Act would be amended to ensure that "no person is discriminated against in Bermuda".

Asked what had happened to her predecessor's pledge to ensure nobody can be discriminated against — whether gay, straight or bisexual — Ms Butterfield explained that Mr. Butler had taken the matter to Cabinet but been turned down.

She said she did not know whether individual Cabinet members had been against the move, but only that the collective decision had been to reject it.

The Minister declined to give her own position on the subject, but said that talks were ongoing with groups calling for discrimination to be outlawed.

Reacting yesterday, Mr. Butler, who quit Cabinet in June in the aftermath of the Uighurs affair, said he believes the matter will eventually reach the House of Assembly for a conscience vote.

Late in the evening, Premier Ewart Brown's press secretary Arnold Minors put out a statement saying: "Any statements made publicly about Cabinet deliberations were inadvertent. The Government is long past the point of investigating whether sexual orientation should be a protected ground under the Human Rights Act.

"The Throne Speech makes it clear that the Government's position is that the Act will be amended to make sure that no person is discriminated against in Bermuda."

Speaking about the Human Rights Act, Ms Butterfield told the media yesterday: "We expect that legislative reform will occur in phases, as the policy framework for different categories of protected grounds, such as age, disability and gender discrimination, are worked out and incorporated into law.

"The question of inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected ground under the Human Rights Act is still being actively investigated."

Yesterday evening, Government implied a sticking point over the issue was the wording of the Act.

The Ministry's Permanent Secretary Wayne Carey said it might not simply be a case of adding the words "sexual orientation" to the list of things people cannot be discriminated against.

Asked how else it could be worded, he said he did not know.

Mr. Minors added in his statement: "Many jurisdictions have wrestled with ensuring that the language in Human Rights Acts with respect to sexual orientation is correct and inclusive.

"Commonly accepted language about sexual orientation continues to evolve, particularly as public understanding deepens. This Government will ensure that it gets the terminology correct."

Openly gay resident Claire Smith yesterday contacted this newspaper, saying: "I thought the concept behind the Human Rights Act was to protect the basic rights and freedoms of all human beings, particularly those groups in society that could be the target of discrimination.

"A person's sexual orientation and the freedom of consenting adults to live and love how they choose is a basic right and should be a freedom we are all entitled to.

"Not many gay Bermudians stand up publicly and speak out on this issue, because they are scared to be stigmatised as a homosexual. But, whether you like it or not, gays are everywhere — in our families, in the House of Parliament, in our courts, our hospitals, our schools, our churches, our clubs.

"Is our society homophobic to the extent that it wants to deny these people basic human rights?

"As much as Bermuda attempts to tout itself as a modern, progressive developed country, in reality we live in a backwards country with a parochial mentality. All prejudice is wrong, and Cabinet should be ashamed of themselves not to pass this legislation.

"Martin Luther King Jr. once said that 'a time comes when silence is betrayal'."

Ayo Johnson of pressure group Two Words and a Comma said: "Those of us who have been advocating the prohibition of sexual orientation discrimination look forward to seeing the wording of Government's proposed amendment to the Human Rights Act."

Human Rights Commission chairman Venous Memari said: "By now you are aware that the HRC wrote to the Bermuda Bar Association and Amnesty because we became aware that the forthcoming amendments did not include sexual orientation.

"We have been liaising with Two Words and a Comma as well as the Bar Council and Amnesty in the hope that Government reconsiders this issue."

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