BELIZE CITY, Mon. Sept. 14, 2020– On Wednesday, September 16, 2020, the House of Representatives will finally table the Equal Opportunities Bill (EOB), which has provoked many highly charged discussions since it was drafted earlier this year.
Those who champion the bill (i.e. the National AIDS Commission (NAC), the Caribbean Partnership against HIV & AIDS (PANCAP), the Human Dignity Trust and the Special Envoy for Women and Children) have stated that it is a step closer to ending multiple forms of discrimination in Belize.
Throughout the educational sessions that were held countrywide, however, many community residents and a number of churches rejected the bill due to its ambiguous wording and the implications that it could have for the justice system. The National Evangelical Association of Belize (NEAB) had publicly rejected the bill since its introduction to the public on January 11, 2020.
In speaking with Father Scott Stirm, a long-tenured member of the NEAB, a synopsis was shared that was drafted by the NEAB dated September 9, 2020, which highlights the Association’s areas of concern.
As it stands, the Equal Opportunities Bill is 88 pages long, but the NEAB has, in a 3-page synopsis that was drafted on September 9, 2020, summarized the bill and highlighted all the ways that it could have a negative impact on Belize.
This myriad of reasons included the fact that the bill identifies 21 “protected groups” that cannot be discriminated against, four of which belong to the LGBTQ community. The synopsis also refers to the ambiguity of the law as it pertains to “intended or unintended discrimination”, a lack of religious protection, and unfair treatment of service providers, employers and property owners, etc.
The document shared by the NEAB concludes:
“In summary, for all the good things this Bill seeks to accomplish, equal work, protecting the poor & disabled, protecting HIV victims from being pushed out, etc. intentional or unintentional, the wording that it uses also opens the door for hundreds of other terrible situations to happen. This is the most controversial Bill ever tabled in Belize history, introducing ‘never before’ terms of legislation, like ‘gender identity’, ‘gender mainstreaming’ (#33 no definition), and many others. It establishes a ‘social re-engineering Commission & Tribunal’ to dictate, enforce, and impose liberal, anti-God standards & values upon the nation of Belize. All consultation processes have been repeatedly last minute, rammed through with short times to consult.
“Yet this Bill is a total ‘Game changer’ law for the country and history of Belize! It has points that are blatantly unconstitutional and will affect Business, Education, Labor, Sale of Property, Private Ownership, Religion, Public Life, Insurance, Healthcare, Home and Family, and All Public Authorities over all institutions! This Bill needs serious Legal Review & Scrutiny. This is designed to curb Religious Freedom and Traditional Family Values. It will affect Business and Commerce terribly. We reject the Equal Opportunities Bill in its Present Form.”
Senior attorney-at-Law, Richard “Dickie” Bradley, had also gone on record to publicly reject the bill, stating that the bill is doing the opposite of what the committee is setting out to do, and is unconstitutional in many areas. Bradley went further to say that the Cabinet should have resigned for green-lighting a law such as this.
The bill, however, did receive some support. While the number of those in favor does seem relatively small, there have been online petitions in circulation to garner support for the passing of the bill in the House.
A “supporter comment” was posted under one of these online petitions by an online account with a profile that bears the name of Lisa Shoman, Senior Counsel of Belize and newly appointed judge on the Caribbean Community Administrative Tribunal.
The one-line comment reads: “It will change lives. It will protect Belizeans.”
When contacted for confirmation of her stance on the issue, however, Shoman declined comment.