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Human Rights concern over new law

The Human Rights Commission has expressed serious concern about a proposed legal amendment which will “undermine the integrity of the Human Rights Act”.

Community minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin has pledged to change the law so that the Human Rights Act — which currently has primacy over all other legislation — could be trumped by the section of the Matrimonial Causes Act that says a marriage is void if the parties are not male and female.

Responding in a statement today, the HRC said: “The Human Rights Commission is gravely concerned about the Government’s Matrimonial Causes Amendment Act 2016, which includes a clause that undermines the integrity of the Human Rights Act 1981.

“We remain firmly opposed to all amendments, as proposed by both the Government and members of the Opposition that seek to weaken our national human rights legislation.

“The proposed amendments serve to enshrine inequality, and in so doing continue to marginalise members of our community who have long been denied legal protections held by the majority.

“The commission has submitted its concerns to the honourable Members of Parliament. We wish to share our submission and urge members of the public who are opposed to legislating discrimination to contact their constituent representatives and implore them to challenge any and all legislation that serves to uphold inequality.

“We encourage you to exercise your right to advocate and make your concerns known to your elected representatives.”

The commission’s letter states: “The Human Rights Commission fervently opposes any amendment to the Human Rights Act 1981 which would serve to, in effect, legislate discrimination.

“The HRA should not be amended at will to protect the view of the majority, to do so diminishes its power to ensure that all are treated equally under the law.

“This is the very antithesis of human rights and equality and our hope is that the government and the Opposition will strongly discourage any support by its ministers and members of any amendment proposed to override the primacy of the Human Rights Act 1981.

“To pass an amendment of the HRA, which would insert language into the HRA which would solidify discrimination based on sexual orientation, in this case concerning the definition of marriage, would have the same consequence as the passage of the Matrimonial Causes Amendment Act 2016.

“Both proposed amendments will subjugate equality, and without providing recourse for same-sex couples under the law the government will be in contravention of its positive obligation to provide a route for legal recognition of same-sex couples.”

The commission said of the proposed amendment: “Without providing any legal route to recognition of same-sex couples, we are confronted with a Government and an Opposition whose actions are not reflective of a democracy that values everyone’s rights equally.

“Should either of the proposed amendments pass, our human rights instrument will be rigged so that a vulnerable minority is left without protection. When did we become a society that strips protection from segments of the population who most require it? Where will it end?

“Finally, we submit that Acts which will place Government in contravention of its obligations not only under the ECHR but to those in our community who deserve and require protection should not be left to votes of conscience.”