The Rainbow Alliance has hit back after church groups united to ask for special exemptions from human rights law protecting gay people from discrimination.
The United for Change advert — signed by more than 70 clergymen, churches and faith-based groups — asked for “carve outs” in human rights law to be strengthened so they can “refuse to employ or take into membership those who without conviction practice same-gender sexual relations or any other practice that does not adhere to the biblical standard, nor be in violation of the Act should we hold to and teach these biblical principles both privately and publicly.”
A spokesman for the Alliance said: “The Rainbow Alliance of Bermuda finds it questionable that the UGC group has decided to highlight homosexuality as a sin more deserving of ‘carve outs’ in the law than any other ‘sin’ that their doctrine opposes, some of which are grounds already protected in the Human Rights Act.”
The spokesman added: “The Human Rights amendment to include sexual orientation was not created to impinge upon the freedoms of any already-protected religious majority groups, but to protect everyone who has a sexual orientation, that is, all persons.
“Freedom of conscience or religion as a constitutional right includes the right to be a member of any religion or sect you choose and the right to manifest your beliefs in public.”
But the spokesman added: “Manifesting these beliefs in public does not mean that you are immune from punishment for any activity which is clearly unlawful or injurious to another’s rights.
“Legislating observance to doctrinal views is a violation of the freedom of conscience rights under the constitution. Suggesting further amendments to the Human Rights Act to make some groups ‘more equal than others’ defies the spirit of the Act.
“As the Human Rights Act currently stands, churches already have the ability to discriminate when hiring if it is a bona fide and material requirement for the job, that is if the y can prove that sexual orientation is a bona fide and material requirement to being a clergyman.
“Any other exemption is a perversion of the law and shows favouritism of one group over another.”
And the Rainbow Alliance pointed out that sections of the Act already make clear that freedom of conscience is subject to respect for the rights of others and to the public interest.
Among the signatories of the United for Change advert are the Catholic Bishop of Hamilton Robert Kurtz, the head of the island’s second largest religious group.
Others include members of the AME, the Seventh Day Adventists, the First Church of God, the Cornerstone Bible Fellowship, Baptists and Methodists.
But no clergy from the Anglican Church, the largest single religious group in Bermuda, has signed up to the UFC document.
Prior to the election of new Bishop Nicholas Dill, Archdeacon Andrew Doughty said that the church had yet to discuss its stance on gay rights and the role of gay people in the Anglican church, although he said that he was sure that most of the church’s faithful would be in favour of extending anti-discrimination laws.
The Rainbow Alliance spokesman said: “The United for Change advert… has made it abundantly clear the these groups do not wish to open their doors to homosexuals.”
But he added that Pastor Sylvia Hayward-Harris of Vision Ministries had expressed her support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) members of the community.
And he added: “The Human Rights Act has already passed to include sexual orientation as grounds for discrimination. The UFC group many vocally dislike this law, but they are not permitted to reject or break it.”
The spokesman said: “The UFC’s statement opens with a message of love and tolerance, which we return in equal measure. We hope to see them redirect their collective attention and money spent – with full page ads running from $2000-$3000 – on more pressing community issues.
“We hope that the Anglican Church also continues their positive community work and does not seek to create any more divisions within our already fractured community.” n