Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

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.

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Photos by Chris Gibbons

I’m not sure what it says about Bermuda in 2013 that a National Day of Prayer, at which some clergy chose to openly advocate continued discrimination against gays, drew far more people to City Hall yesterday than the 100 or so who turned out at the House of Assembly today to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia and the tabling of a bill to amend Bermuda’s Human Rights Act to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Does it mean that Bermudians place more stock in religious dogma than human rights? That their unfounded fear and ignorance prevents them from recognising that discrimination and injustice in any form is to be opposed? I hope it means that many Bermudians – and not a few clergy and churchgoers, I would wager – privately agree with the amendment but for whatever reason don’t wish to be seen publicly supporting it. Either that or they couldn’t justify two consecutive days out of the office.

It was disturbing to hear hysterical rhetoric such as that by Bishop Lloyd Duncan of the New Testament Church of God who declared: “I now implore our newly elected Government to exercise Biblical caution and spiritual restraint as you seek to approve what God’s word does not endorse, and as you seek to legislate what heaven has deemed inadmissible from the inception of time.” He said the amendment would be “a critical error and what can only be termed a lethal mistake”.

Or this statement, from the AME Church warning the Government “legislation that endorses homosexuality violates God’s Word” and said that all people are made in God’s image, including those “affected by same sex attraction”.

They are entitled to their view but are missing the point. No one is demanding that they support gay marriage or condone homosexuality. What they are not entitled to do is to actively support an encourage discrimination against a section of the community. Their claims that gays can be “cured” by prayer belong in the same category of ignorance as those who still believe  the earth is flat. A gay person can no more change than a white man can become black. In the words of the wonderful Macklemore & Lewis song Same Love: “I couldn’t change even if I tried/Even if I wanted to.” (By the way it was encouraging to hear The Captain play that track on the Mix 106 drive-in this morning to mark the day).

As Phil Wells posted on Facebook today: “Someone should ask the churches whether they would support the removal of ‘religion or beliefs’ from the Human Rights Act.”

Although consensual homosexual sex was de-criminalised in 1994 (yes, as late as that) it still takes courage to be openly gay in Bermuda. In the same way it took courage for black Bermudians to fight – and continue to fight – against racial discrimination and prejudice it took guts for gay Bermudians (supported by Amnesty International, Centre for Justice, Rainbow Alliance, Two Words and a Comma and the Vision Ministry) to publicly stand up and be counted at the House of Assembly today.

Now lets hope that our MPs have the sense to give the religious bigots short shrift and add those two simple two words and a comma to the Human Rights Act.