BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Sept. 17, 2020– On Monday, September 14, it was announced that the divisive and controversial Equal Opportunities Bill (EOB) would be introduced at the House of Representatives meeting scheduled for Wednesday, September 16. The announcement sparked widespread consternation and condemnation the following day, which saw the introduction of a “Kill the Bill” campaign across the country.
The leaders of a number of evangelical churches, which make up the larger portion of the coalition of organizations and individuals that have taken a public stance against the bill, roused their members to rally against the EOB. The result was a string of protests and motorcades in various parts of the country, such as Belmopan, San Ignacio, Orange Walk and Punta Gorda.
As a part of their campaign, non-supporters of the bill were asked to wear white T-shirts as a sign of solidarity and spread social media awareness by posting the hashtags: #KillTheBill and #IWantMyCountryBack.
From the introduction of the drafted bill, the National Evangelical Association of Belize (NEAB) had made known their intentions to boycott its passing. During the organized protests, Pastors Louis Wade and Scott Stirm (Second Vice President, NEAB) spoke with the media, stating that their intent was to have the bill completely withdrawn because of its impositions on the Constitution of Belize in a myriad of ways. Their biggest qualm, however, relates to the categorization of discrimination in the bill, which has been sectioned off into about twenty-one classifications — four of which relate to the LGBT+ community (lawful sexual activity, intersex status, gender identity and sexual orientation).
This was confirmed in a personal “editorial” Pastor Stirm shared with social media on Tuesday. In that editorial he stated:
“Dear National AIDS Commission, UNIBAM, and Human Dignity Trust. Contrary to your belief, we actually do agree with Equal Opportunities. We just don’t agree with using legitimate areas of Equal Opportunity as the icing to cover the cake of LGBT Enforced Equality. Respectfully, we have a difference of opinion, of values, of perspective. But in the EOB forecast system, that will land us before your Commission — that is so wrong! And in violation of the Constitution!”
Given the hostile climate that had emerged after the declaration of the mere intention to introduce the Bill in the House, Cabinet subsequently announced that they would not proceed to table the Bill. A press release went out around 5:00 p.m. stating that the EOB would not be presented at the House meeting and that the Cabinet found it regrettable that while some persons and entities were expressing sincere consternation, some stakeholders were engaging in what it called “purposeful misinformation.”
The press release went further to claim that there was never an intent to pass the legislation without the due process being afforded, and that there were good elements in the bill that would bring about “tremendous benefit for the Belizean people”.
The Prime Minister also spoke on the matter at the conclusion of the House meeting, stating that he felt that Cabinet would have supported the Bill had it been tabled:
“I think Cabinet could have supported the bill pretty much in its entirety. I don’t see it is a long bill, it is a big document, so I can’t speak to each of the sections, each provision in any sort of detail, but by and large, Cabinet felt that this is a good bill, this is a necessary bill, it is an overdue bill and Cabinet was very upset at having to make the decision not to proceed with it,” he remarked.
“Why did that decision come? The churches principally, and I am not talking about the Evangelical churches, we always knew what their position would be, and I think we were prepared to contest that on the basis that to clear up the misconception that they obviously had, there was never any question of trying to rush through the bill on the same day to do the 3 sittings at once, and so we felt that since there would be time for people to make their views known at a House committee meeting, we are handling it the proper way, but Monday night before the Tuesday Cabinet meeting, Bishop Philip Wright from the mainstream churches, the Belize Council of Churches, messaged me to say that they could not, the Council of Churches, could not support the bill as it now stands; that’s game set and match: we are not going to go against all the churches, the Evangelicals plus the Belize Council of Churches,” Barrow went on to reveal.
The PM further went on record to express his belief that the Evangelicals will oppose the bill in any form, which he personally feels is “backwards”.
Barrow also stated that he hopes whoever “comes next (into Government) will take up the bill right at the start.”