Parliament can be an exciting place. There is an exhilaration to being in a chamber with a group of intelligent individuals who are all making passionate arguments for the good of our community. Exchanging ideas is always a worthwhile experience and is a mark of an advanced democracy. Naturally, there are times when we disagree, but that does not devalue the principles which we parliamentarians try our best to espouse.
Today was a fascinating day in Parliament. It is unusual to see unanimous agreement on a Bill, especially one that has proved as controversial as Same-Sex Marriage. It is highly encouraging that as a nation we have now come so far as to entitle members of our community to privileges which they were previously denied. I am proud to have served in a Parliament that voted in favour of such a momentous piece of legislation.
Where there was disagreement, however, was in some of the technicalities of the Bill. In giving government workers the right to refuse to carry out their professional responsibilities due to religious objections, I felt that the Bill did not go far enough in addressing some of the inequalities in our society. This clause effectively gives these workers a license to discriminate, something which, in my opinion, blunts the Bill’s very purpose. I guess I was hoping for a more genuine commitment to ending these disparities, and I am saddened by the mixed messages this House seems to be sending.
I understand the religious arguments, although I do not agree with them, and it is my view that these should not be allowed to supercede fundamental human rights. Religion, after all, is a man-made construct, whereas sexual orientation is not. A person is not born of faith, but is born of a sexual orientation, and I think that makes certain freedoms a birthright. The Chief Minister eloquently argued that the Constitution grants the freedom to object on religious grounds. Perhaps, if this is the case, the Constitution needs to be re-assessed, and I look forward to giving my thoughts on the matter at the next meeting of the Select Committee for Constitutional Reform.
People do not choose to be gay. What people do choose, however, is to have views that do not belong in a place of work. Beliefs change and develop over time, but Governments should lead the way in this. Today, while the Government showed brave leadership in presenting this Bill to the House, I cannot help but feel a little bit short-changed.
The Chief Minister insisted on calling this ‘marriage’ rather than ‘same-sex marriage’ in recognition of a perceived equality between the two. The reality, however, is that as long as officials may be exempted to perform their duties because they disagree with this notion, then I am afraid that we cannot be justified in calling them the same. And while Parliament’s collective conscience might rest easier tonight, I still think there might be a few uneasy nights while this issue is alive.
However, I have made my arguments and my representations, and democracy has spoken. Therefore, we should embrace what today means: a significant recognition of equal rights and an important step in our maturation as a fair and just democracy. If today was about doing the right thing, then we have done mostly right, and as long as we keep on heading in this direction, I am confident that the final remaining vestiges of inequality will eventually disappear from our statute books, and I look forward to continuing making these arguments in order to make this a reality.
Finally, while I would like to thank all my Parliamentary colleagues for their patience in allowing me to present this amendment, and to congratulate them for their role in this important event, I would particularly like to convey my gratitude to Elliott Phillips, Lawrence Llamas and Roy Clinton, all of whom chose to stand with me in presenting this objection to the Bill. I admire these gentlemen for their moral courage and fortitude in voting with their conscience, and I thank them for their friendship and support.
So…what’s next? 😀