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Trio vow to fight Act amendment

A trio of senators have vowed to fight an amendment to the Human Rights Act, which they believe discriminates against same-sex couples.

The Bill, which aims to strengthen the definition of marriage between a heterosexual couple, will go today before the Senate, where it needs six assenting votes from 11 to pass into law.

However, with Senator Georgia Marshall, Senator Jeff Baron and Senator Michael Fahy voting against it, the Bill will need the support of six of the remaining eight senators to pass.

If it fails, the Bill will be sent back to the House, where it can either be altered and returned to the Senate or left for one year before taking effect in its current form.

Opposition MP Wayne Furbert tabled the controversial Human Rights Amendment Act 2016 last Friday night in the House of Assembly.

It seeks to legally elevate the Matrimonial Causes Act 1974 above the Human Rights Act when it states that marriages are void unless they are between a man and a woman.

A total of 20 MPs voted in favour and ten against, while Michael Dunkley, the Premier, abstained from voting so he could discuss the matter with the Human Rights Commission.

After the motion passed, the HRC released a statement condemning the “deeply disturbing” move for “brazenly undermining” Bermuda's commitment to anti-discrimination. It also called upon Bermuda residents to contact senators to voice their dismay at the amendment.

Mr Baron told The Royal Gazette that he had received more than 50 e-mails in the 18 hours since the HRC released its statement.

“I will continue to completely oppose efforts that codify discrimination into law, and that's precisely what Mr Furbert's Bill does,” he said. “This is not an issue of whether you agree with same-sex marriage or whether you're religious; this is about carving out human rights.

“We must keep that at the centre of our focus.”

Mr Fahy said: “Simply put, I don't think the Human Rights Act is a place to remove rights. It's not the forum for it in any way, shape or form.”

Mrs Marshall, a lawyer specialising in matrimonial cases, said she aimed to deliver a decisive speech in the Upper House.

“I am hoping that if there are people on the fence on this issue, I can reach out and get through to them,” she said.

The HRC's statement on Tuesday said: “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.

“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.”

Jeff Baron (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published July 14, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated July 14, 2016 at 3:10 pm)

Trio vow to fight Act amendment

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