Features — 07 June 2013 — by Adele Ramos
“Firestorm” over gender policy; Barrow doesn’t blink

“…there is no way on earth that Government will withdraw that policy”

“…maybe 10, 15, 20 years from now it may become the norm that when you get an invitation it will no longer be Mister and Misses Hulse but it will be Mister Hulse and guest or Mister Hulse and friend… cause you don’t know who is going to show up,” says Minister Hulse

Prime Minister Dean Barrow is due to meet Friday with some representatives of Belize’s faith community to discuss the Revised 2013 Gender Policy, which some contend includes a dramatic shift in policy to treat LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) persons as a special disadvantaged group through anti-discrimination policies which could eventually become law here in Belize.

Whereas Barrow is prepared to meet, he told the media Wednesday that, “…there is no way on earth that Government will withdraw that policy.”

Barrow described the Revised 2013 Gender Policy as “a good policy” – and his Cabinet approved it via consensus in March.

“I’m prepared to accommodate submissions on particular aspects of the policy,” Barrow said, adding that “…if it can be shown where certain things are subject to misinterpretation” he is prepared—at the most—to clarify the language.

“That is Government’s decision, it is Government’s prerogative,” Barrow told the press.

He went on to say, “This gender policy is not law; it does not impose obligations on the churches or anyone else in the society. This is the position of the state which has the constitutional obligation of acting in a certain way towards all its citizens.”

Barrow said that since “the firestorm that the churches have set off” he reviewed the policy again and he maintained his stance: “I am completely satisfied that it is a good policy and there is a great deal of misunderstanding.”

Whereas the group challenging anti-sodomy laws in the Belize Supreme Court has said that their claim is not about legalizing same-sex marriages, one official of government conceded that times are changing and a time may come in the years ahead where same-sex couples become more public—but this Cabinet, he said, would resist any change of laws in that regard.

Leader of Government Business in the Senate and Minister of Labour, Local Government, Rural Development and National Emergency Management and Immigration and Nationality Godwin Hulse, who said he is a Catholic, told us that: “If you were to come to a point in this country where you were going to debate same-sex marriage and all of that sort of thing, through the present Cabinet, you won’t pass the Cabinet, worse to make it to the National Assembly, because those are very, very strong fundamental issues upon which people stand. And I am here to tell you, in that Cabinet that I sit, you won’t get it past a Cabinet. They will say, ‘Ok, you don’t discriminate against people who want jobs and you don’t discriminate against people for this and that. But you ain’t gonna get those kinds of laws passed, not anytime soon.”

Hulse went on to say, though, that “…maybe 10, 15, 20 years from now it may become the norm that when you get an invitation it will no longer be Mister and Misses Hulse but it will be Mister Hulse and guest or Mister Hulse and friend… cause you don’t know who is going to show up. The world is moving in that way, but at the same time, the churches have a responsibility to move it in the other direction.”

Hulse stressed that it was a group of women who prepared the policy, through the National Women’s Commission, and it was adopted by the government—so it’s Government’s policy.

When it comes to turning that policy into law, Hulse indicated, there are inherent safeguards where the people can force the Government to rethink, if not retract: “We all know the capacity to stop laws from moving forward… Back in 2007, when there was going to be a certain law passed, we were able to stop it in the National Assembly and have the Prime Minister reverse it. You could be right there again, so you have a lot of safeguards down the road.”

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