Act amendment ‘discriminatory’

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The Human Rights Commission is calling on the community to lobby senators before they debate controversial legislation aimed at strengthening marriage between a man and a woman.

Tomorrow, the Upper House will run the rule over amendments to the Human Rights Act, brought by Progressive Labour Party MP Wayne Furbert, which were approved by MPs in the House of Assembly last Friday.

The Bill states that the Human Rights Act cannot override the provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Act, which provides that marriages are void unless they are between a man and a woman.

Yesterday, the Human Rights Commission added its voice to those concerned that the proposed law is an attack on the rights of the same-sex community. Describing itself as “deeply disturbed” by it passing in the House, the HRC stated: “Human rights are inherent, inalienable and universal entitlements of individual human beings, neither of state nor of ‘cultural norms’ or even the will of the majority.

“This is why our Human Rights Act was intended to have primacy over all legislation, unless specified, with the exception of the Bermuda Constitution.

“It was enacted to protect all people, in particular, affording protection for historically marginalised or vulnerable individuals against discrimination as set out in the Act.

“The effect of the Human Rights Amendment Bill 2016 is to legally permit discrimination against individuals of a protected class, thereby enshrining discrimination in the very Act that was put in place to protect against it.

“As a community, regardless of our position on the issue of marriage equality, we should all be concerned about the example this sets. If we can so brazenly undermine our commitment to anti-discrimination in this area, why not in other areas?

“We encourage those within the community who support our stance to e-mail each of the senators before they begin debating the Bill on Thursday.

“In the event that this Bill is defeated, it will be sent back to the House of Assembly where it may be redrafted or withdrawn. We encourage the public to then reach out to their Member of Parliament and express their views to them directly.”

The press statement points out that the Bermuda Constitution only prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, creed, national origin, or political opinions.

It continues: “The background of Bermuda’s Human Rights Act is that it was developed in 1981 to provide Bermuda with a more modern and evolved anti-discrimination framework.

“Once Members of Parliament decide it is appropriate to carve out legislation from protection under the Human Rights Act, it is opening the door for future discriminatory legislation against individuals protected by the Human Rights Act, but not the Constitution. This is a dangerous precedent.

“For example, discrimination on the basis of gender is not prohibited by the Constitution, but is prohibited by the Human Rights Act. Are we, as a community, willing to accept that the House of Assembly, if it chooses, can pass legislation that is discriminatory against women by carving legislation out from the Human Rights Act, for example?

“What would happen if the Assembly decided to pass a bill tomorrow that took away a woman’s right to vote, her ability to pledge collateral to a bank, or her ability to be employed on an equal basis to a man?

“The Human Rights Commission is steadfastly against any attempt by the House of Assembly to cut any anti-discrimination protection at the knees.

“Human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings; their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of governments. This is also the mandate of the Human Rights Commission and our goal is to eliminate discrimination in all its forms.

“We believe that all people should be equal before the law and should be entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.”

People are advised that the e-mail addresses of the senators, together with a template letter format that can be used in any correspondence, is available on its Facebook page, on www.facebook.com/HRCBermuda.

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Published Jul 12, 2016 at 2:11 pm (Updated Jul 13, 2016 at 6:55 am)

Act amendment ‘discriminatory’

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