There has been an interesting discussion on the thread ‘Lets Talk Bermuda‘ focusing on the 2009 Throne Speech’s call for amending the Human Rights Act (HRAct). I had been leaving that thread to develop by itself as I didn’t want to break the dynamics there, however I think it would make sense to start a new thread devoted to the topic alone.
The main issue with the proposed amending of the HRAct is the focus on including sexual orientation in the Act. In a highly religious and generally homophobic community, this was always bound to cause controversy. There are a number of arguments that seem to be continuously raised in objection to such an amendment and I hope to clarify these and give my own thoughts on them.
I should say at the moment that this blog has been, and continues to be, solidly behind amendin the HRAct to include sexual orientation, yet I welcome hearing more voices on this issue. It is true that the online community tends to be dominated by a handful of voices, and these voices tend to be generally supportive of amending the HRAct to include sexual orientation. It is also true that these voices are perhaps not representative of the community as a whole, and it is important to encourage alternate voices on this issue, if only for mutual understanding of the problem. I hope that new voices will be heard both for an against the amendment, although I stress that our democracy must not solely be the rule of numerical superiority, as this leads to mob democracy and the rule of prejudice. Democracy must be tempered with empathy for others, with justice and ethics (as opposed to morality and prejudice).
I had originally written a rather long post, dealing with the various questions that are put up around this issue. After looking at its length however, I’ve decided to to break it up and post individual bits over the week. Questions that I will be looking at are:
The question of choice or biological determinism and ‘special rights’
There is no evidence for discrimination – a catch-22
I don’t want to rent to gays
Sexual orientation is already covered by the HRAct…
The HRAct specifically states what is covered by the HRAct in Section 2 (Interpretation), subsection (2)(a), which states in full:
(2) For the purposes of this Act a person shall be deemed to discriminate against another person—
(a) if he treats him less favourably than he treats or would treat other persons generally or refuses or deliberately omits to enter into any contract or arrangement with him on the like terms and the like circumstances as in the case of other persons generally or deliberately treats him differently to other persons because —
(i) of his race, place of origin, colour, or ethnic or national origins;
(ii) of his sex;
(iii) of his marital status;
(iiiA) of his disability;
(iv) he was not born in lawful wedlock;
(v) she has or is likely to have a child whether born in lawful wedlock or not;
(vi) of his religion or beliefs or political opinions; or
(vii) of his criminal record, except where there are valid reasons relevant to the nature of the particular offence for which he is convicted that would justify the difference in treatment.
Of these, only the categories of (ii) – Sex, and (iiia) – disability, could concievably cover that of sexual orientation. However, ‘sex’ in this list refers solely to the biological characteristics of male or female, and ‘disability’ is specifically defined as:
“…a person who has any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation, or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness, including diabetes, epilepsy, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, human immunodeficiency virus, paralysis, amputation, lack of physical coordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog, wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device.”
*I just want to stress that I think it would be highly insulting to consider sexual orientation under disability.*
It seems clear then that ‘sexual orientation’ is not covered under the existing HRActs categories.