Bahai News -- CNN International - Guyana debates gay rights bill

Guyana debates gay rights bill

Groups advocate calm discussions

Thursday, July 24, 2003 Posted: 1826 GMT ( 2:26 AM HKT)

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) -- Parliament was debating a constitutional amendment to outlaw sexual discrimination Thursday, despite calls by a human rights group to postpone the vote.

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) -- Parliament was debating a constitutional amendment to outlaw sexual discrimination Thursday, despite calls by a human rights group to postpone the vote.

Saying the bill had upset and divided Guyana's socially conservative society, the Guyana Human Rights Association said more time was needed for emotions to cool.

"We do not want to turn this debate on the bill into another theater of division, and frankly we feel that there has not been enough time for a proper debate in the country," said the group's leader, Mike McCormack.

He also said the debate has exposed Guyana's small homosexual community to unwanted criticism and ridicule.

Proponents have argued that freedom from sexual discrimination is a fundamental human right, while detractors say the bill would lead to a loosening of morals and sanctioning of homosexuality.

Among religious groups only the Roman Catholic Church has voiced support for the bill, while other Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Bahai groups all have warned it would be a first step toward legalizing same-sex marriages and child adoption by gay or lesbian couples.

The constitutional amendment requires approval from two-thirds of the 65 members in the National Assembly, though both the opposition and governing parties have said most of their members will block its passage.

Two years ago, legislators passed the bill unanimously. But it was vetoed by President Bharrat Jagdeo, who said he was bowing to pressure from religious groups. The legislators later said they passed the bill, which was part of a wider measure to establish human rights, because they did not notice the references to sexual orientation in its wording.

Supporting the rights group's call for postponing Thursday's vote, the Anglican Church said the issue had caused "new fault lines" to appear in a society already divided racially and politically.

The population of about 700,000 is almost evenly split between blacks, who support the opposition, and those of East Indian descent, who mainly back the governing party.

Sixty percent are Christians, while Hindus make the second largest religious group with about 30 percent.

"Until we can resolve this matter legally without fear of generating further divisions, we should not rush to legislative changes," said Bishop Randolph George of the Anglican Church of Guyana.

©Copyright 2003, CNN International

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