Bermuda’s MPs tonight finally passed the amendment to the Human Rights Act making it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation. [They also voted to ban age discrimination ... although oddly not in the workplace.] The bill will now pass to the Senate next week for debate. An amendment by the PLP MP Wayne Furbert to specifically prohibit gay marriage was defeated.
It took nine (yes, NINE) hours of often self-righteous grandstanding in the House of Assembly before the amendment was passed. OBA Sylvan Richards said it best: ““It’s kind of absurd to me that we’re even having this discussion. The God I serve says we are to love one another.”
Some of the statements were so absurd they were outright laughable. Like this, from PLP Leader Marc Bean, who should surely know better: “It is my position is that sexual orientation is not a basic human right. It’s orientation to something that already exists. One’s orientation can change.”
Thankfully others, like Attorney General Mark Pettingill (OBA) offered some much-needed perspective: “People are born gay. They don’t wake up one day and turn gay.”
At the end of the day, though, it was a sign of political and social maturity that the issue got debated at all, even if the level of debate was barely above that of some of the social media “discussions” online. In 2006, the House fell silent when PLP MP Renee Webb tried to table the amendment.
The Royal Gazette quoted a spokesperson from lobby group Two Words And A Comma as saying: This is a significant day for human rights in Bermuda. We are encouraged by the debate, though this amendment is long overdue. It looks like Bermuda’s closely-held belief that discrimination is unacceptable will soon be enshrined more fully in our human rights law.”
Incidentally, I’d like to make a point of thanking all those reporters and commentators who worked their tails off today keeping everybody up to speed with events (and supplying the quotes I used above). We’re beginning to take this stuff for granted but today I was able to follow everything live on The Royal Gazette and Bermuda Sun websites and social media sites, on Bernews, via the live audio stream on the Government site, and even Bermemes. That sort of rolling coverage would have been unthinkable in Bermuda even five years ago.
Yes, there was a lot of rubbish spouted on Facebook, Twitter, etc. as there always is but on balance, it enables a level of public engagement, free speech and frank, open discussion that, again, would not have been possible a few years ago. That can only be a good thing.
I don’t often find myself agreeing with Walter Roban (PLP) but as he stated: “It’s been a good day for the principles of freedom and democracy.”
UPDATE (June 20): The amendment was passed in the Senate.