One of the two Constitutional Amendment Bills which generated keen interest from all sections of society, in particular the religious community, was unanimously approved in the National Assembly last night, receiving the required two-thirds majority with 52 Members of Parliament (M.P) voting for it and none against. The other one, because of its controversial and contentious nature, was not proceeded with, following a motion by Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Reepu Daman Persaud, who said representation was received from the main opposition party, the People’s National Congress/Reform (PNC/R), and other groups urging that the Bill not be proceeded with.
Members of the religious community staged a peaceful demonstration outside the National Assembly in opposition to the passage of the Bills
The two Bills No. 9 and 10 were originally one Bill which was passed by the National Assembly in 2001 but was not assented to by President Bharrat Jagdeo, and subsequently referred to the National Assembly.
The President did not assent to the Bill as a result of representations to him by religious groups, which expressed fear that the legislation would legalize homosexual marriages and promote immorality.
Consequently, the Bill was truncated into two separate Bills (No 9&10), one seeking to remove the words sexual orientation and the other seeking to reintroduce it so as to ensure there is no discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or other reasons.
Bill No. 9 sought to amend the Constitution and is one of a group of such Bills which sought to give effect to the recommendations of the Constitution Reform Committee (CRC), as approved by the Oversight Committee on Constitutional Reform.
The Bill elevates certain Articles in Chapter II from principles to fundamental rights and confers new fundamental and human rights through several amendments to various clauses.
However, Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General, Doodnauth Singh, in introducing the Bill made the observation that media houses erroneously were referring to the Constitution Amendment Bill No. 9 as the Sexual Orientation Bill.
Members of Parliament from both sides of the House commended the hard work of the members of the CRC and emphasized that it was never the intention of the members of the Committee to encourage or legalize homosexual marriages or unnatural or immoral acts, but may have made the mistake of including the words sexual orientation out of an enthusiasm to ensure protection from all forms of discrimination.
Another important piece of legislation that was passed last night was the Maritime Drugs Trafficking (Suppression) Bill.
Deliberations on this Bill was deferred at the last sitting of the National Assembly because of its non-publication in the Official Gazette - a violation of Standing Order Four (3).
The PNC/R, which supported the Bill in principle, did not vote for its passage. They charged that the Bill is to facilitate the bilateral agreement that Guyana has with the US on cooperation in the fight against maritime drug trafficking and that its provisions compromise Guyana’s sovereignty. This position was adumbrated by both Mr. Raphael Trotman and Ms. Deborah Backer of the PNC/R, further contending that Guyana has such an agreement only with the US.
However, in rejecting their arguments Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj, chided them for approbating and reprobating at the same time.
He conceded that presently Guyana has such an agreement only with the US, but pointed out that one has to look into the future and anticipate that similar agreements would be entered into with other states.
The minister assured the National Assembly that Guyana’s sovereignty was in no way compromised as a result of the bilateral agreement with the US (Shiprider Agreement) because the provisions within the agreement ensure that there is no disparity between the countries.
He also said because of the escalation in maritime drug trafficking not only in Guyana but in the Caribbean and elsewhere, the legislation is seeking to forge greater cooperation between Guyana and other countries in the fight against this scourge.
When the vote on the Bill was taken the PNC/R abstained. However, the built in majority of the government benches ensured the passage of the Bill.