Legislation to protect gays from discrimination to be tabled soon

  • Attorney General Mark Pettingill (Photo by Glenn Tucker)

    Attorney General Mark Pettingill (Photo by Glenn Tucker)

New human rights regulations that will protect gays and lesbians from discrimination could become law in a matter of weeks.

And Bermuda is currently in violation of European laws that make it an offence not to provide protection for gays and lesbians within the Human Rights Act, according to Attorney General Mark Pettingill.

Speaking exclusively to The Royal Gazette, Mr Pettingill confirmed that Government was moving swiftly to amend the law and that the changes will be put before MPs “within the next number of weeks”.

The Attorney General rounded on the Opposition for failing to bring about the amendment during its 14 years in office, claiming that the Island’s current regulations contravened international laws.

“It’s a very simple thing to do and furthermore it’s the right thing to do, so it will be laid before the House of Assembly within the next number of weeks,” Mr Pettingill said.

Currently, the Human Rights Act protects people from discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, gender and disability, but not sexual orientation or age.

Although there have been repeated calls to amend the law for several years, the former Progressive Labour Party Government insisted that amendments were unnecessary and attempts to rewrite law were stonewalled. Campaigners argued that politicians from both parties were reluctant to change the law for fear of alienating conservative voters.

But in the run-up to last December’s General Election, both the PLP and One Bermuda Alliance pledged to address the issue if elected.

Yesterday Mr Pettingill said he expected the change to get the backing of all MPs once it is tabled in the House of Assembly.

“I would be astounded at the hypocrisy of the Opposition if they did not support this, particularly bearing in mind we have had any number of gay legislators in the House of Assembly over the years,” he said.

“I find it grossly offensive that the former Government did nothing on this.”

Pointing out that Bermuda was in contravention of international laws, Mr Pettingill said he was surprised that nobody had challenged the current legislation in the courts.

“The European court is very, very clear on the fact that sexual orientation has to be included in Human Rights legislation and we come under that umbrella you can’t have laws that try to duck around that,” Mr Pettingill said.

Responding to the news, one gay rights campaigner, said: “This is going to be a big relief because we need protection.

“It may end up upsetting some people but it needs to be done. We still need to see what exactly it’s going to entail but people need to be open about it.

“This is one of the reasons why many people in the gay community ended up voting for the OBA - because they said they were going to do this. The PLP kept on saying that they were going to work with us on this matter but, whenever we approached it, it just kept on getting shoved under the table.”

During yesterday’s Senate session, PLP Senator Diallo Rabain hinted that any change in the law put forward by Government would be supported by the Opposition.

“Our side have much in favour of ending any sort of discrimination,” Sen Rabain said.

“I will admit it should have been done and could have been done.”

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Published Feb 21, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 20, 2013 at 11:17 pm)

Legislation to protect gays from discrimination to be tabled soon

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