Anglican Church still undecided on discrimination issue
Bermuda’s largest Christian denomination is yet to decide its position on sexual orientation discrimination.
Nicholas Dill, Bishop of the Anglican Church told The Royal Gazette that a discussion with the membership has to take place before the church’s official position can be determined.
The Anglican church was conspicuous by its absence from a document signed by the group United for Change, which called for an amendment to the Human Rights Act that would protect faith-based organisations from being in violation of the law if they discriminated against homosexuals for religious reasons.
Yesterday, Bishop Dill said the issue was a “complex” involving “differing pastoral responses”.
He said he had promised his church that the whole issue of sexual orientation discrimination would be discussed within the next few months.
Legislators agreed in July to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
United for Change, a group of more than 60 pastors seeking to articulate a unified voice of the churches to the community has appealed to Government to amend the Human Rights Act to protect the right of conscience when it comes to employing or admitting to their memberships “those who without conviction practise same gender sexual relations or any other practice that does not adhere to Biblical standards”.
The group is also concerned that preaching against homosexuality may be considered hate speech under the new laws and that the Island would soon be moving toward legalisation of same sex marriage.
But while the group is calling for introduction of “carve-outs” in the Human Rights Act which would make it lawful for faith-based institutions to refuse to employ or admit practising homosexuals as members, the degree to which such protection already exists is unclear.
The general prohibition against discrimination does not apply to religious organisations which refuse membership on religious grounds, for example.
Another carve-out in the Act allows employment discrimination on the grounds of religion if religion is a “bona fide and material occupational qualification and a bona fide and reasonable employment consideration for that position or employment”.
The Human Rights Commission did not respond to our e-mailed requests for comment on the issue.
Community Affairs Minister Wayne Scott, who is responsible for human rights and championed the latest amendments to the Act, said he had been in contact with churches about their concerns earlier this year.
“I actually commend the churches coming together on this. And I think that one of the core premises that they said is that everyone should be treated equally and that is the purpose of the Human Rights Act,” Mr Scott said.
“This Government has said that this is not about same sex marriage and I understand the concerns of the church. But marriage is defined by the Marriage Act, not the Human Rights Act. Ultimately that is something that will be fought by the courts, but modifying the Marriage Act is not something that we are considering doing at all.”
Efforts to contact administrators of United for Change have been unsuccessful.