Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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Equality
(Aired 13 June 2003)

   There have been many letters in the newspaper concerning the protections of rights of persons on the grounds of their sexual orientation being enshrined in our constitution.    

  This exchange has been going on more or less since 1998 when the parliament passed the equal rights bill and presented it to the President who has refused to sign it.

   The religious bodies Christian and Muslim are objecting to the rights of persons who are not purely heterosexual being enshrined in the new constitution.

   I have written on this matter before, the constitution is the supreme law of the land and in it; I am guaranteed freedom of speech and freedom of association.

   Nothing can be placed in the constitution that collides with my right to freedom of association and if I were, say, a person who does not want to associate with homosexuals, I have the constitutional right not to do so.

   The Guyana constitution, a socialist one, has never contained an equality clause; it was in the preamble to it, but was never contained in it.

   If I wanted to sue someone for competing unfairly with me or giving another person, or entity, or business, a privilege whilst at the same time denying me that same privilege, I would not be able to file a motion under any existing law in this country, if the owners of private aircraft wanted to sue the GDF for competing unfairly with them they also could not do so. If any one of you saw a person receiving treatment which you were not getting simply because they have friends in Robb Street, you could do nothing about it.

   So we need these modifications to the constitution which are laid out in article 137 A (1) (2) & (3) and provide that and I quote "(1) the state shall not deny to any person equality before the law and equal protection and benefit of the law. (2) Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedom and the state shall, for the purpose of the achievement of such equality, take legislative and other measures designed to protect disadvantaged persons and persons with disabilities and (3) the state shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on grounds of race, gender sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origins, colour, creed, sexual orientation, age, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language, birth or disability.

  These provisions now to be enshrined in our constitution guarantees a large number of rights to all of us, which were never ours before, and frankly, holding it up for the sole objection of conferring equal rights regardless of "sexual orientation" which only pertains to a few members of our society, is absolutely nonsensical. Most of the people I have spoken to about this, do not appreciate what is involved, they think that this sexual orientation clause is an isolated clause, which can be left out, without affecting the conference of the numerous other rights to all of us, it is not so. 

   The President continues to refuse to sign these amendments of the constitution into law, and why should he? It will raise a barrage of complaints in our courts of violations to our constitutional rights guaranteed under these new equality clauses and which are being breached daily by his Government.

   The letters now demanding that this provision of homosexual rights be left in at article 137 A (3) to irritate a national debate with the religious and other organisations, to the detriment of implementing the other very important rights guaranteed by it, takes on a new more sinister dimension.

   Who is orchestrating these letters? Is it the very persons, the executive in this country, who have to sigh it, and do not want to? Since it is a tailor made excuse not to sign it? You decide ladies and gentlemen, but using this homosexual rights clause buried within all of the other fundamental equality rights we are entitled to, and desperately need, as an excuse not to sign it into law, is low, even for the PPP.

   Take it out, leave it in, but give me the equality rights which I am entitled to. In the end since we say that this is a democracy you ladies and gentlemen should have the last say, what the majority of you say, is what counts.

   Equal rights in any constitution is an absolute necessity and our Muslim brothers, who are the most vocal in their objection to this provision being in the constitution, must understand that they have wanted a Muslim religious television channel for close to 5 years and have been denied having it, if however there was this equality clause in the constitution it would be unconstitutional for anyone to deny them a means of communicating their beliefs and ideas to their fellow Muslim brothers and the public at large. My church of course also condemns homosexuality but to my mind having it in, is much less of an encumbrance to obtain justice, than not having it in and not benefiting from any of the protections it confers on ME.

   However since these sexual orientation rights are in conflict with other parts of the constitution, which are far more important and necessary, take it out, and after a national consensus is established then we can be put back, in a form that does not conflict with other guaranteed fundamental rights. There is an ongoing Constitutional Reform standing committee in the Parliament now, which can address this contentious issue.

   Even the US [where we are all packing to migrate to] has not enshrined a gay rights clause into their constitution and have refused to allow gay marriages to be accepted by any of its 50 states. Since non discrimination clauses in the constitution can allow gay couples to be married and enjoy the same rights and privileges as the rest of the heterosexual population, with the same tax benefits that pertain to other married couples, it can also therefore mean legal access to the Supreme Court to obtain divorces and division of property etc. from such marriages. The complications are endless. But many cases are taken to the US Supreme Court yearly that address discrimination against Gays since the words "all men and women are equal under the law" covers everything, all rights, and once homosexuality is not illegal under the law, then you cannot discriminate against them. So it is not essential that we specifically state "regardless of sexual orientation" in our constitution for Gays to enjoy equality under our laws.

    Let me give you an example of governments not signing basic human rights for all of their citizens because of a provision that pertains to only a few

   The International Human Rights Covenant has not been ratified by the Guyana Government; this means that we, especially those in the media, are not protected by much of the provisions of the covenant. The reason is that we cannot get a national consensus on the death penalty; it is a very convenient excuse for our governments not to sign these covenants on the grounds that we, their constituents, want blood and demand the execution of all murderers, but how many people condemned to death have actually been executed over the past 10 years? So we are denied the privilege of opening the umbrella of rights and protections guaranteed by the International Human Rights Covenant for a reason which is not enforced anyway, does anyone see the utter stupidity of this?

Or is it only me?