Why I feel the Single-Sex Marriage Bill does not go far enough

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? 😀


Reflections, and the Week Ahead

evolution.pngAnyone who follows Parliament (and lets face it, there are not many out there who have the time to sit for endless hours following procedures which sadly, to many come across as “disengaging”) might be a little confused as to how and why we have been sitting practically weekly since early September, when we are supposed to have monthly sessions of questions and answers.

What’s happened is that up until last week, we were actually still on the “June” session, which encompassed the Budget session, and due to the BREXIT result and government commitments as a consequence, never ended basically.

The June session effectively lasted four months, including a summer break, a divorce from the European Union and the proverbial “sweargate” session in Parliament, which, thankfully came to a peaceful end.

In all this time, Gibraltar has been coming to terms with this upcoming divorce while elected representatives have been carving out ways in which to remain profitable and viable as a self-sufficient community in the face of our amputation from the European Union.

I never worry or panic about big moments like this. As Gibraltarians we have weathered so much worse, and in the end, I have no doubt that we shall reinvent ourselves to come off stronger and better than ever. I just know it. Here is the thing though…

There is little that we can decide upon until we really know the game plan from the UK, so anyone who comes out with big solutions or even “end game” ideas is at best naïve, and at worst, trying to be politically opportunistic at a time when we all need to put our heads together as a community to show the type of unity that will be the main ingredient which will carry us through. No amount of dissing opponents about their tactics in the open media will bring anything good at a time like this, it will only weaken our stance and make us look like amateur game players at this vital crossroads in our political history.

This is why I welcomed the Brexit Select Committee in Parliament. It will be a place where all concerned parties, political and otherwise, can come together and think of ways and strategies to navigate through this time TOGETHER, and I for one, welcome this move and look forward to debating in a manner which will be constructive across the floor.

In the meantime, Roy Clinton tabled a motion in Parliament calling for the return to the Public Accounts Committee, something which the Chief Minister was not partial to and something which brought about a new revelation, that of a loan which apparently was made to an ex GSD Minister and never repaid. I’m always up for transparency, but I am sorry, and said as much in a press release in the days that followed, that it had to come up during an important discussion about the value or otherwise of a Public Accounts Committee.

Having lost my father at a young age, I’m a sucker for stories about him, so was warmed to hear Clinton quoting him when his government the AACR set up a Public Accounts Committee back in the 80s. Sir Joshua was quoted as having said, “we have nothing to hide”, a mantra which I carry with me in my political heart. However, the Chief Minister then alerted the House that the AACR had only had a Public Accounts Committee for one term of office, meaning that really, a tried and tested committee that didn’t remain, could be a sign that, it just didn’t work, and this made me question the need for one in the first place, and took me back to the idea I proposed in Parliament during my budget speech asking for an “Autumn Statement” instead, as is annually seen in Westminster where the Chancellor presents an update on the budget.

I think this would be a good comprise don’t you agree Mr. Picardo?

Meanwhile, across the pond, the US Presidential elections is taking up quite a bit of airtime on TV. With the Trump allegations of sexual misconduct, his awful hair and Hilary professing to be the only safe alternative despite all those dubious emails…let’s see where that all ends up shall we?

And now to the week which follows. One of the most important and significant human rights Bills in our time will be debated and voted on, in favour of equal marriage. It is going to be one of those moments in our history where our elected representatives will put their money where their mouths are and hopefully “do the right thing”.

Politics is so much more than locker-room banter, tax returns and bizarre requests for drug tests don’t you think?