Human rights body backs sexual orientation bill
Politicians urged to show leadership
Bishop Edghill denies homophobia campaign

Stabroek News
July 20, 2003

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The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) is urging MPs, who only last year unanimously approved an amendment forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, to support it again on the ground that Guyana cannot afford discrimination in any form.

“Sending a message that discrimination in relation to sexual orientation is a matter for personal conscience rather than a matter of principle, raises questions whether race or gender should not be treated likewise,” the GHRA warned in a press release on Friday. It added that rather than collapse in the face of “religious distortion” politicians should provide leadership and back the view that Guyana cannot accept discrimination of any type.

The GHRA points out that the ‘sexual orientation’ clause in the proposed amendment to the Constitution does not refer to homosexuality much less marriage, and the failure to recognise and focus on this distinction has thoroughly confused the discussions on the issue.

“Efforts by the religious leadership to confuse discrimination and same sex marriage is particularly irresponsible in light of Article 149 (3) of the Constitution which expressly preserves the laws as they relate to adoption, marriage, divorce, burial and other matters of personal law from the influence of article 149 (2), (in which `sexual orientation’ would be located)”.

The sexual orientation bill has sparked heated public discourses and is to come up for consideration in Parliament this week. The sexual orientation clause had originally been included in a fundamental rights bill setting out grounds on which persons could not be discriminated against. It was passed unanimously but President Bharrat Jagdeo refused to sign it after opposition was raised to the sexual orientation clause mainly by religious groups. Sexual orientation has since been separated from the other grounds and both bills are to be considered again this week by parliament.

Meanwhile, Bishop Juan Edghill has denied that remarks he made at a recent televised press conference implied a hate campaign against homosexuals and told Stabroek News that the Church was prepared to offer help and love to persons of that persuasion through counselling.

He made the comment in response to the GHRA which stated that evidence of ‘virulent homophobia’ on television shows sponsored by religious bodies should engage the attention of the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) on the grounds of incitement.

Religious groups are firmly opposed to individuals being given the constitutionally enshrined right not to be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. Much of the opposition has been premised on the view that elevating non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation to a fundamental right could lead to homosexuals pressing for the right to be married and adopt children. As it stands, the bill is likely to be rejected even with MPs allowed to vote based on their personal beliefs as it requires support from two-thirds of the assembly. President Jagdeo has signalled that most of his party’s MPs have indicated that they will vote against it.

The GHRA states that comments made by Edghill about there being ‘evangelical obedience’ in Guyana if the sexual orientation clause is approved into law were threatening. These comments, it said, could be understood to mean a ‘fatwa’ (a religious edict) against gays and lesbians. The GHRA asks whether the Guyana Council of Churches of which Edghill is Chairman and other supporting bodies, like the Georgetown Ministers Fellowship and the Guyana Evangelical Fellowship are prepared to take whatever action to prevent the passage of the bill in the National Assembly.

Edghill said that the term ‘evangelical obedience’ meant that if the law were to be passed in Parliament, the Church would take a principled stand and not obey that law, but obey the tenets of faith. “I find it to be repulsive that the GHRA would want to manipulate statements that I made. We don’t have a hate campaign against homosexuals.”

He added that if the bill is passed, that would be the first step for the gay lobby and a window would be open for challenges to the laws in court. He referred to a recently published letter in Stabroek News which suggested that laws against sodomy should be repealed.

But the GHRA repudiates what it referred to as the propagandistic and unfounded manipulation by religious leaders of the serious problem of child abuse for political ends.

It views Bishop Edghill’s statements - in which he warned that the clause would open the door to not only homosexuality, but also bestiality, paedophilia and every form of sexual deviance being enshrined in the highest law of the land as being calculated to generate hysteria amongst parents and guardians, towards homosexuality.

The association is concerned that the intolerance and homophobia currently demonstrated by some religious leaders would provoke hostility towards gay and lesbian people whether or not the clause is passed into law.

Opponents of the inclusion of ‘sexual orientation’ completely distort the reality of what has occurred in countries that have for many years extended protection against discrimination to homosexuals, the GHRA says.

The release added that from the limited information available on public opinion, there seemed to be significant agreement that homosexuals should be protected from discrimination. The GHRA says it believes that the term ‘sexual orientation’ should be an approved ground for protection against discrimination in the Guyana Constitution.

The technical issue at stake with respect to sexual orientation is who people are and not how they behave, according to the GHRA release.

Enlightened opinion internationally has concluded that sexual orientation is a fundamental aspect of human personality, the release mentioned. Whether a person’s sexual orientation involves an emotional attraction to people of the same sex (homosexual orientation) or another sex (heterosexual orientation) or both sexes (bisexual orientation), it is considered to be God-given, a natural part of a person’s make-up.

These international studies have concluded that in the same way that a person does not choose his or her race, natural origin, ethnicity, ability or disabilities, neither does he or she choose his or her sexual orientation. It is a fact, the release noted, that at every level of plant, animal and human life, inexplicable biological differences occur.

For the same reason that discrimination against persons on the basis of other aspects of their personality is illegal, persons should not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, the GHRA believes.

The GHRA is also concerned over a number of anomalies in the Fundamental Rights Section of the 1980 Constitution that were not addressed by the Constitution Amendment Bill No. 18. The GHRA says that it brought those anomalies to the attention of the Parliamentary Sub-Commission on Constitutional Reform established in 1997.

In giving a summary of the anomalies, the GHRA noted that the bill introduced an eclectic collection of new rights, mainly of a social, economic and cultural nature. As a response to the problem of excessive limitations on rights, Constitutional Reform Bill No. 18 is inadequate in two major ways, the GHRA says. First, it is unclear why some amendments were made and others equally in need of reform, were not addressed, and secondly, some new rights have been taken ‘wholesale’ from the International Conventions on the Rights of Women and the Rights of the Child.

The principle established at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, Austria in 1993 that all rights are to be considered universal, equal and indivisible; ergo, the distinction between human rights and fundamental rights adopted in the Constitution Amendment Bill No. 9 is obsolete and unacceptable, according to the GHRA.