WEDNESDAY, JULY 18: Bermuda’s move to introduce anti-discrimination laws to protect gay people may lag behind some countries – but puts us ahead of many Caribbean nations.
Among the countries with no anti-discrimination legislation covering sexual orientation are the UK Overseas Territories of Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, and Barbuda.
The British Virgin Islands, also an overseas territory, has some anti-gay discrimination laws on the books, although it decriminalized gay sex between consenting adults six years after Bermuda.
Nation states like the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica and Antigua also lack laws to give gays the same protection as other minority groups. But — in addition — gay sex remains illegal in Barbados and Jamaica, with penalties of up to life imprisonment in Barbados.
Research by the Bermuda Sun followed the signalling of new laws to ban discrimination against gays and older people.
But Youth, Families and Sports Minister Glenn Blakeney ruled out legislation to allow same-sex marriages in a speech to the House of Assembly.
Mr Blakeney told MPs: “This Government does not condone injustice and discrimination in race, gender, religious beliefs, place of origin, age or because of a person’s sexual orientation.
“However, unlike the stated first four grounds of discrimination, there is currently no legislation to protect persons from the latter two. Young, old, black, white, Asian, European, African, persons with disabilities and persons who are gay and lesbian - Bermuda’s population is diverse. And no matter what we look like, where we come from or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity and this Government intends to progress equality for all by preventing discrimination against all classes of people.”
Mr Blakeney said a review of laws in other countries, such as the UK, New Zealand and South Africa, showed that legal protection existed — although he pointed out UK exemptions for religious groups: “This Government is sensitive to the fact that in Bermuda there is a significant faith-based community who on the one hand, because of religious beliefs, is not likely to favour a marriage tradition that includes same-sex marriage, but who, at the same time, understand that discrimination against persons of same sex orientation in employment, accommodation and goods and services is unacceptable.
“Harassment of persons who are homosexual is equally as unacceptable as harassment based on their gender, ie, whether they are male or female.”
And Mr Blakeney pointed out that heterosexual people would also be protected against discrimination - for example, if a gay employer did not want to hire a straight worker.
Mr Blakeney said a review had found that gay people were discriminated against, while some young gay people were “stigmatized by their peers and have little, if any, outlets for support or protection.”
He added that public forums, like talk radio and social media sites, showed an “undercurrent of alarminly hostile and aggressive attitudes” towards gay people.
Mr Blakeney said that both he and civil servants had met UK experts in human rights to discuss British legislation.
He added that a rewrite of the existing human rights law in Bermuda and a new Equality Act may be needed. Mr Blakeney said with an ageing population and falling birthrate in line with most western countries, Bermuda could not afford to discriminate against older people.
And he said further discussions — including public meetings — would be held to discuss the issues, including the possibility of raising the pension age from 65.