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New bill is ‘a step in the right direction’

Celebration: A crowd gathered outside the House of Assembly yesterday in support of the International Day Against Homophobia on the day the Human Rights Act was amended to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (Photo by Akil Simmons)
Celebration: A crowd gathered outside the House of Assembly yesterday in support of the International Day Against Homophobia on the day the Human Rights Act was amended to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (Photo by Akil Simmons)

By Owain Johnston-Barnes

Government has formally tabled legislation to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The Human Rights Act currently prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, religion and criminal record, but the Human Rights Amendment Bill 2013 adds sexual orientation to that list.

The amendment also partially prohibits age discrimination, making it illegal to discriminate in the provision of goods, services and accommodation, and clarifies that a woman has the right to no less favourable treatment regardless of if she is, or may become, pregnant.

The legislation has drawn mixed reaction. Religious groups such as the AME Church have stated their opposition of including sexual orientation in the Human Rights Act, and charity Age Concern recently expressed disappointment that the amendment does not prohibit age discrimination in the area of employment.

But outside the House of Assembly, dozens of supporters gathered yesterday for a “picnic lunch” organised by the Sexual Orientation Working Group.

The event was held to not only celebrate the tabling of the bill, but to mark the UN International Day Against Homophobia, which was yesterday.

Several members of the crowd wore purple, the colour adopted for the Day Against Homophobia, while others wore purple ribbons and held purple balloons.

A number of attendees also brought placards adorned with phrases including “Feel the Love Bermuda”, “Welcome to the 21st Century Bermuda” and “All Humans have Rights”.

Hannah Collins of the Rainbow Alliance said: “It’s about equality. This amendment is important because right now gay, lesbian and bisexual people are not protected at all in terms of discrimination when it comes to housing, or employment.

“International Day Against Homophobia is also important in Bermuda because it’s a real issue here in Bermuda.”

Supporters gathered outside the House of Assembly in support of International Day Against Homophobia. (Photo by Akil Simmons)
Supporters gathered outside the House of Assembly in support of International Day Against Homophobia. (Photo by Akil Simmons)

She said she was happy with the turnout, saying: “Some people believe that the only people who support gay rights are gay people, and that is not the case.

“There are a lot of people who just understand that what is right is right, and this is the right thing to do.”

Asked why she was taking part, Judy Motyer indicated towards her own placard which said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, a quote from Martin Luther King Jnr.

Josh Correia of the Rainbow Alliance said he was pleased by the turnout at the event. “This is definitely a step in the right direction, and we hope we can keep this momentum going,” he said.

The event took place hours after the AME Church issued a statement issuing it’s “unapologetic” opposition to the amendment.

The statement said: “The AME Church opposes legislation that threatens the traditional family structure and erodes Bermuda society as a whole. This amendment does both.

“Since the Bible is clear that a relationship involving sexual intimacy is to be between a man and a woman within the bounds of marriage, legislation that endorses homosexuality violates God’s Word and gives up a Christian’s conscientious obligation to obey it.

“The AME Church believes that all people are made in God’s image, including those affected by same sex attraction. The Church will defend human dignity because of the Church’s commitment to godly principles. However, the AME Church unapologetically resists this amendment and appeals to those of like-mind to do the same.”

Asked about the statement, Mr Correia said: “They have freedom of religion. They have the right to express their opinion. I’m not going to tell them they are right or wrong.”

Ms Collins meanwhile argued that the message of the Bible is one of love, rather than discrimination.

“I think some groups are totally off base with what they are preaching,” she said. “They should be preaching love and empathy, not that they support discrimination, which is basically what some groups are doing.”

Source: The Royal Gazette

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