Sexual orientation bill should be put to referendum - Holder

Stabroek News
May 27, 2001

The people of Guyana should decide the fate of the controversial constitution amendment bill expanding the fundamental rights of the individual including the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation.

GAP/WPA freshman parliamentarian, Sheila Holder, said that her personal view was that the bill should be put to the people in a referendum. "I don't know why as the representatives of the people we feel that we should speak for them on this issue."

She said that was her view before she entered parliament and continued to be so now that she was a parliamentarian.

Asked if she did not think that the laws of the country should be in line with the treaties to which the government was a party, Holder observed that the laws should reflect the will of the people.

The bill had been approved by 55-0 majority during the last parliament but President Bharrat Jagdeo returned the bill to the National Assembly after he had been successfully lobbied by sections of the religious community to withhold his assent. They claimed that while they did not favour an individual being discriminated against, they did not feel that it was a right that should be enshrined in the constitution. This they claimed would lead to the promotion of homosexuality, including same sex marriages.

The amendment had been recommended by the Constitution Reform Commission and was approved by the parliament on the unanimous recommendation of the Oversight Committee on constitutional reform.

Chief Whip of the PNC REFORM, Lance Carberry, said he believed that his party would vote the same way it did when the bill was considered during the last parliament. He said that all the bill sought to do was to bring the constitution into line with the international treaties to which the government was party.

Reacting to the President's refusal to assent to the bill sent to him during the last parliament, Carberry said that the President should say what it was that he wanted excised from the bill.

The United Force parliamentarian, Manzoor Nadir, who supported the bill during the last parliament, said that he would support the bill banning discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, but not one that supported same sex marriages, and same sex adoption of children. This, he said, was the area into which those who played politics with the last bill ventured.

He said that it was not beyond the members of National Assembly to find a form of words, which would protect the individual from being discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation without creating undesirable rights.

Among the rights enshrined in the bill as fundamental rights were the equality of all persons before the law, the freedom to strike and to demonstrate peacefully, the right to pension and gratuity, and the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, marital status, disability and pregnancy.

Other fundamental rights created by the legislation, some of which have been elevated from constitutional principles, were the right to equal pay for equal work, the equality of status of all persons whether born in or out of wedlock, the equality of women, the right to free education up to the secondary level, the right to establish private schools and the right to enter into collective agreements.

Other new rights were the right of the trade unions and cooperatives to be involved in decision-making processes of the state and the right of every citizen to an environment that is not harmful to his or her well-being; the right of persons not to be subject to capital punishment for the commission of offences when he or she was under the age of 18 years. The right of the indigenous peoples to the protection, preservation and promulgation of their languages, cultural heritage and way of life was enshrined as a fundamental right.

The legislation, once assented to, would guarantee the protection of rights listed in the various conventions to which Guyana is a signatory such as the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child, the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and on all Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also provides for additional rights to be added by a simple majority of parliament, but require a two-thirds majority to authorise the removal of any right.

The legislation would vest parliament with the power to ensure the constitutional principles at Chapter II were enforced and would make it incumbent on the courts to pay due regard to international conventions, covenants and charters bearing on human rights, when interpreting the fundamental rights provisions of the constitution.