Bishop Nicasio, of Belize City and Belmopan, had said the bill was “rushed” despite its great consequences for the country, and warned that it “ореnѕ thе dооr fоr Unіtеd Nаtіоnѕ Соmmіttееѕ аnd ‘ехреrtѕ,’ whо dо nоt lіvе іn Веlіzе аnd dо nоt undеrѕtаnd our vаluеѕ аnd сulturе, tо dісtаtе thе tеrmѕ оf оur lаwѕ.”
“Тhіѕ would bе а nеw соlоnіаlіѕm,” the bishop said in a Sept. 15 letter.
Several international NGO backed the legislation, as part of a global push to change laws in British Commonwealth countries.
In January the Belize government’s press office said the Equal Opportunities Bill was needed “to address and prevent discrimination, stigma, and violence.”
The bill aimed to regulate “specific conduct in areas of public life” regarding employment, education, access to premises or accommodation, provision of goods and services, travel, public services.”
It would have also established an Equal Opportunities Commission, a non-judicial body that would “work with stakeholders to address inequality, resolve disputes, conduct research and education, and develop guidelines to assist the government, businesses and the community in identifying and eliminating systemic discrimination.”
The commission would have been funded by the National Assembly but could also seek funds from domestic, regional and international sources, provided that the funding be disclosed.
Also called for by the bill was an Equal Opportunities Tribunal, a judicial body funded only by the Belize government. An appointed judge of the Supreme Court would compose the tribunal. The tribunal has the power to make declarations, awards and judgment on cases. It would “provide for broad-ranging remedies” and resolve claims not settled before the commission.
Bishop Nicasio, whose diocese encompasses the entire country of 383,000 people, voiced his desire “to end unjust discrimination and all injustice” and pledged cooperation to work towards these ends, but he said the Catholic Church could not support the bill for several reasons.
The bill could infringe on parents' rights, and, given the power of law to form consciences and opinions, the bill would “do much to confuse the youth of Belize regarding the sacredness of sexuality.” Sexuality is “a way toward holy matrimonial union and the conception of children,” he said.
The view of human nature behind the bill also drew criticism from the bishop, who said “the novelty of the anthropology” in it was another reason not to support it. The bill recognizes “intersex” as a sex in addition to male and female.
“The bill introduces the notion that humanity has three sexes instead of two, the notion that subjective gender identity is more important than one’s God-given biological sex and would impose on Belizeans the task of ‘gender mainstreaming’.”
It would give “unparalleled power” to an Equal Opportunities Commission and an Equal Opportunities Tribunal. In the name of fighting discrimination, it could endanger freedom of conscience and religion. While the bill made some exceptions for religious organizations, there were none for “individual believers with deeply-held, Bible-formed beliefs.” He warned the bill could create a “pendulum effect” and enable discrimination against these individuals.
For Fr. Robinson, the bill itself was “not a surprise.” He saw it as “only one manifestation of an ongoing social engineering experiment.”
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“However, the extreme nature of the proposals was surprising, especially the creation of an entirely independent judicial branch with the rank of a supreme court and the power invested in the Commission/Tribunal with no real checks or balances.”
After the bill failed to advance, Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow told reporters Sept. 16 that the cabinet was “very upset” not to proceed with it and felt it was a good, necessary, and “overdue” bill, PlusTV Belize reported. He said the Belize constitution provides equal opportunity and the bill would have provided an “umbrella of protection”.
He claimed it was a misconception that the legislation would be “rushed” since there would be time for views to be voiced in committee. Barrow insisted that there had been “widespread” consultations.
The Anglican Bishop of Belize, Phillip Wright, in his role heading the Belize Council of Churches, had told the prime minister the council could not support the bill as it was written. The Roman Catholic Church in Belize is also a member of the council.
Backers of the bill were planning to proceed in the face of expected opposition from evangelical Christians, but opposition from other churches was too much, according to Barrow.
“We’re not going to go against all the churches, the evangelicals plus the Belize Council of Churches,” said the prime minister. According to Barrow, Wright seemed to suggest that further work could have resulted in an agreement.