Blakeney defends position on sexual orientation as House passes Human Rights amendment
Families Minister Glenn Blakeney yesterday claimed a British expert has backed his controversial stance on sexual orientation discrimination.
Mr Blakeney told the House of Assembly he has consulted with a lord in the UK who agreed with his plan to amend human rights laws “in the context of Bermuda” by introducing an equality act.
He was speaking during the debate on the Human Rights Amendment (No 2) Act, during which Government’s failure to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation once again come under fire from the Opposition. Mr Blakeney said Permanent Secretary Wayne Carey had led a trip to London to look at the UK’s equality act.
“We have had occasion to speak with a lord and legal master in the area of human rights who has committed to assist us as we evolve as a first-world country addressing still some outstanding human rights considerations,” he said.
“Let no one be fooled, or be apprehensive or confused in their mind regarding the commitment of this Government to human rights.
“And, yes, it will be in a Bermuda context.”
Referring to the lord, he continued: “He said, ‘You are absolutely right, Minister, because you have to take into consideration traditions, cultures and a moving sphere of issues and challenges that affect the human condition.’”
Mr Blakeney also responded to former Human Rights Commission chair Shade Subair’s allegation he broke his promise not to add sexual orientation to the list of protected grounds under the Human Rights Act by the end of 2011.
“Even as a politician, I don’t make promises, save for my one promise to do my best serving people,” he said.
“What I did promise was to do my level best to bring legislation that would satisfy the people that were most, I would say, cogently advocating for the case of amendments that we are still looking at and will continue to look at.
“But as it’s a fluid situation, with the commitment I have as Minister, and upon consulting with the Premier, we will look at an even broader context by considering an equality act, to make sure as we move forward we take all into consideration to meet international best practices.”
The Human Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on race, place of origin, skin colour, ethnic or national origins, gender, marital status, disability, religious beliefs or political opinions, or because someone has a criminal record, was born out of wedlock, or may have a child born in or out of wedlock.
Campaigners have long been calling for sexual orientation to be added to that list.
Earlier in yesterday’s debate, Shadow Families Minister Donte Hunt, Shadow Attorney General Trevor Moniz and St George’s MP Kim Swan were among the MPs to complain the PLP has done nothing to ensure people are protected from discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation.
The legislation which passed through the House yesterday aims to improve the administration and functioning of the Human Rights Commission.
It removes the Minister from adjudication of cases and changes the format of the commission to five members.
Opposition MPs echoed former HRC chair Venous Memari’s concerns that the legislation doesn’t go far enough to make the body independent.
Mr Hunt noted the Minister selects the head of the Commission, who in turn selects two more. “In essence, we have three individuals selected directly and indirectly by a political person,” he said.
The St George’s South MP also noted submissions by the Commission have to be approved by the Minister, adding: “There’s a filter that stops the Commission from doing what it has to do.”
Mr Moniz said there had already been examples of Ministerial interference in the process of the HRC and described the latest amendment as baby steps.
Premier Paula Cox disagreed, saying the PLP is aiming for “principled consistency” and is developing human rights laws by a phased approach. Veteran backbencher Walter Lister said those able to remember the days before the HRC are more likely to be happy with the progress currently being made.
OBA seniors spokeswoman Louise Jackson said elderly people have been waiting a long time for age to be added to the list of protected grounds.
Mr Swan, who was elected as a United Bermuda Party MP, spoke passionately about the discrimination black people have suffered historically, and said no more time should be wasted allowing others to be abused.
“Those of us who have experienced that should have a greater empathy,” he said.
He said people are being hurt by the PLP’s political pandering: “That’s the problem. It gets so entangled in something as fundamental as the rights of people.”