MPs voice support for equal rights
Homosexuals deserve protection against discrimination but Government has no intention of allowing same sex marriage, Families Minister Glenn Blakeney said yesterday.
The Minister stressed discrimination based on sexual orientation must be outlawed in employment, accommodation and goods and services as he opened the House of Assemblys first debate on the issue in six years.
But he said Government is sensitive to the fact the Islands significant faith-based community is unlikely to ever favour same sex marriages.
During a lengthy take note motion on a proposed Equality Act yesterday, a number of MPs on all sides of the House said they supported plans to outlaw discrimination against non-heterosexuals.
Estates Minister Michael Scott delivered a passionate speech on the importance of giving homosexuals the same protection as everyone else in society, with Education Minister Dame Jennifer Smith and Health Minister Zane DeSilva among those offering vocal support for a law change.
The failure to protect homosexuals is totally and utterly in contradiction with the criminal code, said Mr Scott.
Backbencher Derrick Burgess said he would follow the church on the sexual orientation issue, but was one of many MPs to speak in favour of outlawing discrimination based on age.
Mr Blakeney introduced the motion to gauge the Houses consensus on the merits of introducing an Equality Act to establish measures protecting persons from age discrimination, and discrimination based on ones sexual orientation.
The motion speaks to the principle of equality for all, he told the House.
This Government does not condone injustice and discrimination in race, gender, religious beliefs, place of origin, age or because of a persons sexual orientation.
Unlike the stated first four grounds of discrimination there is currently no legislation to protect persons from the latter two. This Government intends to progress equality for all by preventing discrimination against all classes of people.
However he continued: There is no intention on the part of this Government to open up or provide any rights in areas such as rights relating to same sex marriage, which would require an amendment to the Marriage Act 1944.
This Government is sensitive to the fact that in Bermuda there is a significant faith-based community, who on the one hand because of religious beliefs is not likely to favour a marriage tradition that includes same sex marriage, but who at the same time, understand that discrimination against persons of same sex orientation in employment, accommodation and goods and services is unacceptable.
Harassment of persons who are homosexual is equally as unacceptable as harassment of persons based on their gender, whether they are male or female.
Any move to include protection on the grounds of sexual orientation into the Human Rights framework must be as clear as possible, so as not to have unintended consequences.
Mr Blakeney described legislation against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as a long overdue step towards protecting humans rights for all people in Bermuda.
This is a basic human right which, interestingly enough, will also protect a heterosexual person from being discriminated against, he said.
Undoubtedly, there is sexual orientation discrimination in Bermuda. However, due to the absence of protection, people are naturally afraid to come forward with their complaints given the hostility this issue can invite, he added.
Where people are bold enough to come forward, the Human Rights Commission must simply log their complaint, and advise complainants that they do not have any protection under the Human Rights Act.
With the inclusion, the Commission would be empowered to conduct formal investigations and both the alleged complainants and respondents will have redress.
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