Jack Warner, Minister of Works and Infrastructure, quipped in response to questions about adding HIV, sexual orientation and age to the Equal Opportunities Bill: "if Obama could do it then who are we?" His response came as 12 people representing the Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), the Silver Lining Foundation, MSM No Political Agenda, FreePride Foundation, Family Planning Association (FPA), Friends for Life and the Women's Caucus of T&T lobbied outside Parliament yesterday.
They were asking that HIV/Aids status, age and sexual orientation be included under the bill. Their march to Parliament began at approximately 11 am, when the group made its way to the Equal Opportunities Commission office and then along Wrightson Road to Parliament, where they stood distributing information packages to members of Government and the Opposition as they passed.
They also displayed a banner, which read: "Add all Three: Age, Sexual Orientation and HIV. Create Equal Opportunity for everybody in T&T." Several Government ministers as well as Opposition members said the advocacy was good and that the topic is fit for national discussion. "The debate worldwide is ongoing. I see that President Obama has made a very bold step," Minister of Sport Anil Roberts said.
Barack Obama became the first US president to offer public support for gay marriage when he said on Wednesday, "It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married." His statement is being hailed as a landmark for civil rights.
Roberts said, "There is always a myriad of issues, but what we must do is always listen to everyone's opinion, hear what is being presented, analyse it and then eventually a decision will be made." The outspoken MP for D'Abadie-O'Meara said he had no personal opinion "other than every single citizen born in Trinidad and Tobago deserves an opportunity to thrive and survive."
Roberts said the issue is not an easy one, but to be guided on the matter, the country should look to the Constitution. He also said he was happy his leader (Prakash Ramadhar) is now the head of the Constitutional Reform Committee, because he thinks this kind of issue is a priority for a referendum. He said he thinks it is the first issue that can be debated at that level.
Opposition Senator Faris Al-Rawi commented, "I have not seen what the national attitude is. And you can only get what national attitude is when you do a proper consultation. "To say that any one group may express its interest forcefully is very different from saying the national community has said something. In terms of making law we have to be conscious to get that national perspective."
Colin Robinson, the executive director of CAISO and spokesman for the group, said it had had a successful meeting with two executives of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) before coming to Parliament. He said the group was given guidance on how to be more effective in advocating its cause.
"We hope to meet with the commissioners, whose role it is, under law, to study discrimination and to point to the Government ways in which discrimination needs to be responded to proactively," he said. The group asked parliamentarians to "pass a bill that has been languishing in Parliament almost a year now."
Robinson said: "This is a fight for equal opportunity. This is not a fight for lesbian and gay rights. This is a fight for human rights. This is a fight for rights that we all share. This is a fight to apply those rights to people regardless of their sexual orientation.