Human Rights Act amendment rejected
The Senate yesterday rejected amendments to the Human Rights Act aimed at solidifying marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Senator Michael Fahy, Senator Georgia Marshall, Senator Jeff Baron and Senator Lynne Woolridge of the One Bermuda Alliance, Senator Kim Wilkerson of the Progressive Labour Party and Independent Senator James Jardine all voted against the Bill, which they labelled regressive and an infringement on Bermuda's human rights laws.
Support for the Bill came from Senator Marc Daniels and Senator Renee Ming of the PLP, OBA Senator Vic Ball, Independent Senator Joan Dillas-Wright and Senate president Carol Ann Bassett, meaning it was beaten by six votes to five.
The Bill, tabled by Progressive Labour Party MP Wayne Furbert, passed in the House of Assembly last Friday but has been strongly criticised by the Human Rights Commission.
It 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.
Mr Furbert remained upbeat last night, immediately pledging to bring his legislation back to the House — and raising the possibility of talks over civil unions.
The Act can now either be altered and returned to the Senate or left for 12 months before taking effect in its current form. Either way it must win approval from Parliament for a second time.
A key turning point in yesterday's seven-hour debate proved to be the speech from Ms Wilkerson, who became only the third PLP politician to reject Mr Furbert's Bill.
The lawyer described it as an attempt to “degrade rights rather than affirm them”, adding that if the Bill passed it “has consequences which cannot be turned around”.
Ms Wilkerson also likened the issue to the historical discrimination of black people, saying: “I believe the feeling must be the same.”
That point was reinforced by Ms Woolridge, who noted the irony that many black people who have experienced discrimination were still pushing this legislation.
Ms Woolridge said she cringes when she reflects on experiences of black men and women and that, as a black woman, she cringes at the thought of anyone wanting to infringe on human rights.
The OBA senator described the Human Rights Act as sacrosanct and said any changes should be progressive, yet the proposed changes are “regressive” and “disclusionary”.
“I feel that Bermuda has lost its compassion in supporting this Bill,” she said.
Mr Fahy, the OBA Senate leader, criticised his own government for “failing to adequately articulate to the community” that a civil unions Bill would be appropriate before last month's same-sex referendum.
He said he opposed Mr Furbert's approach to tackling the issue through the Human Rights Act, which is designed to protect minorities.
But he disagreed with comparing same-sex marriage with the civil rights movement, saying he had not heard of any members of the LGBT community being prevented from voting, entering certain restaurants or having to sit at the back of the bus.
Mr Jardine said his religious beliefs “hold the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman”.
However, he said that the Bill failed to address a lack of legal framework for people in same-sex relationships, rendering it “cart before the horse” legislation.
“If we pass this Bill today, the legislature might lose interest in addressing the rights of a certain section of the community,” he warned.
Ms Marshall said legislation with primacy should not be allowed to be changed by the majority of people, as it may well oppress the minority.
Mr Furbert's Bill was a bad piece of legislation, she said, that would enshrine the notion of “equal but different in our community”. Ms Marshall added: “We should not hesitate to cut it in half and send it to the dump.”
Mr Baron said the amendments had sprang from “fear, uncertainty and doubt”, but pointed to his own changing views on the issue.
“There was a time when I struggled to accept gays and lesbians as equal members of our society. But I have evolved,” he said.
Those senators voting in support of the Bill spoke of the need for more to be done for the LGBT community. Mr Daniels, the PLP Senate leader, said: “I'm not anti-gay but I am pro-marriage and there is a distinction.”
He said only a combination of masculine and feminine energies “can bring forth life”, saying that he wanted to protect, preserve and honour the institution of marriage.
“Man, woman and child is of the highest order,” Mr Daniels said. “That union cannot be mimicked by any other combination.
“I'm not coming from a position of hate, I am coming from a position of love. If marriage is just a flippant title then the rights are all you need. If marriage means something let it have its true meaning. Let it be.”
Mr Ball said: “It comes down to culture. It's not only because we believe in the Bible.”
He said the Government should arrange a legal framework “for our friends in the gay and lesbian community”.
Ms Ming said: “I do not believe in discrimination. As someone who has been discriminated against, I do not take it lightly.”
However, she pointed to last month's non-binding referendum, which drew a turnout of less than 47 per cent; of those who voted, 69 per cent were against same-sex marriage and 63 per cent were against civil unions.
“The people that voted sent us a message, and it would be foolhardy of us to ignore that message.
“I support democracy and I've always believed in the democratic process,” Ms Ming said.
Ms Dillas-Wright said that same-sex couples should be afforded the same rights as heterosexual couples under the law without redefining marriage.
MPs approved the Bill last Friday by 20 votes to ten, with 12 PLP MPs and eight from the OBA voting in favour.
Vic Ball (OBA)
Carol Ann Bassett (Ind)
Marc Daniels (PLP)
Joan Dillas-Wright (Ind)
Renee Ming (PLP)
Jeff Baron (OBA)
Michael Fahy (OBA)
James Jardine (Ind)
Georgia Marshall (OBA)
Kim Wilkerson (PLP)
Lynne Woolridge (OBA)