D-day for Sexual Orientation Bill

Stabroek News
July 24, 2003

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The fate of the sexual orientation bill will be decided today when the contentious legislation is presented for debate in the National Assembly this afternoon.

This bill seeks to make discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation illegal. It also intends to elevate that right to non-discrimination to the level of a fundamental right in the Constitution.

A two-thirds majority vote is required for the constitutional bill to be passed in Parliament. As previously reported, most parliamentarians will be allowed to vote based on their personal beliefs.

Among those who have come out in support of the legislation recently are the Guyana Human Rights Association, the Catholic Church and Students Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD).

Those against it are the Guyana Council of Churches, the Guyana Evangelical Fellowship and the Georgetown Ministers Fellowship, the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana and the Inter-Religious Organisation which comprises members of the Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Bahai faiths.

Those in opposition to the bill contend that its passage will lead to challenges for recognition of gay marriages and adoptions by gay couples.

The lobbying groups for the bill contend that the Constitution is clear in excluding matters of marriage and adoption from such challenges and they also say that Guyana needs to be bring its laws in line with those in other parts of the world.

In 2001, President Bharrat Jagdeo on the advice of the religious community returned the bill for consideration and further debate after objections were raised over the sexual orientation clause.

The government has now decided to treat the matter of sexual orientation as a separate piece of legislation and as such it removed that clause from the amendment to the Constitution catering for other fundamental rights. The other rights are going to be considered at the same time but in another bill.

Parliamentary affairs observers point out that the sexual orientation bill would have to be argued in support of by a government MP even though the government is clearly not in support of the bill and President Bharrat Jagdeo has said that a majority of his party’s MPs have indicated that they will be voting against it. The observers point out that it is unusual for the government to present legislation that it is not in support of particularly if the majority of its MPs are openly against it.

The sexual orientation clause had been approved during the constitutional reform process and had been unanimously approved by the National Assembly as part of the original fundamental rights bill.

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