On Monday evening in the Senate, an opportunity was missed to deal with an area in which citizens of this country face discrimination based on their sexual preferences.
Amendments are being made to the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Act that widen the scope of protection orders and address the use of technology by abusers to harass and stalk their victims.
These are the first changes to the legislation in 21 years, creating a stronger law which should get unanimous support from all sides in the chamber. That is, except for that glaring loophole which leaves same-sex couples deprived of the protections provided by the law.
Independent Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye, an attorney who is widely respected for her work in family law, expressed concern about that oversight when she made her contribution to debate in the Upper House and at the committee stage of the bill moved for an amendment to address that deficiency in clause 3 of the legislation.
Regrettably, the amendment got very little support and was not part of the bill that was eventually passed by the Senate late on Monday.
The unfortunate message being telegraphed through that decision is that members of the T&T LGBT community are not entitled to the same level of protection as heterosexual citizens when they are abused by their intimate partners. They will not be able to apply for protection orders under the amended Domestic Violence law.
The bill, which will be debated in the House of Representatives today, covers 13 types of relationships, including children, those over the age of 16 and couples in romantic and sexual relationships. It also includes a more expansive definition of emotional and psychological abuses.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, who piloted the bill through the Senate and will do the same in the Lower House this afternoon, needs to explain why an entire segment of the population has not been brought under the ambit of this law.
It is difficult to fathom why, in 21st-century T&T, a citizen with a particular sexual preference is not be able to secure an emergency protection order against their partner of the same sex. In a country where domestic violence is a major problem, these citizens remain exposed to physical and emotional harm by their abusive partners.
For this failure, the Government, Opposition and quite a few members of the Senate’s Independent benches share equal blame.
This giant step backwards, just over two years after the landmark April 2018 High Court ruling that declared the country’s buggery law unconstitutional, shows how much work still needs to be done at all levels of this society to eradicate discrimination in all its ugly forms.
A major infringement on the rights of LGBT citizens was struck down in that historic judgement delivered by Justice Devindra Rampersad, which repealed sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offenses Act.
On that occasion, the law violated human rights to privacy and expression. This week, however, the right to protection from abuse was denied to LGBT citizens and the opportunity was missed to introduce a strong, progressive law.