Lack of leadership’ on SSM slowed progress
A lack of leadership on same-sex marriage slowed progress towards equality, the outgoing chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission has claimed.
Tawana Tannock said the row was the most difficult subject she had tackled in her six years with the HRC, three of them as chairwoman.
Ms Tannock admitted: “I’ve got to be honest and say the same-sex marriage debate.”
She said the goalposts were shifted and that residents were unable to “respectfully disagree” on the controversy. But she admitted that she regretted that she had lacked tolerance for people who opposed any recognition of same-sex unions.
Ms Tannock said: “I felt, and I still feel, that we have taken two steps forward and one step back.
“It was difficult because I feel like the goalposts, in terms of what people expected, changed.
“At one point, I remember we were approached and asked, what’s your position on civil unions?
“We said we think it’s important that same-sex couples have the same rights and protections afforded to them, however this is managed, whether it’s civil unions or marriage.
“It was this discussion about whether or not civil unions went far enough, then of course you had the referendum,
“I just felt like there was never any clear leadership on what, as a country, we should do to protect the rights of some of our citizens.
“That was very disheartening.”
Ms Tannock said the commission supported “legal recognition of rights for same-sex couples”, although the position was more complicated than saying it was for or against same-sex marriage.
She added: “The same rights that are afforded for mixed-sex couples should be afforded for couples of the same sex.”
The corporate lawyer said one person had told her in public: “I’m going to pray for you, I’m going to pray that you change your mind.”
However, Ms Tannock said: “I am not, in any way, shape or form, leading the charge on this. There are other people who have done far more work who deserve far more credit for trying to push the ball forward on this, but I thought to myself, this is why people are afraid to stand up for what they believe.
“If I’m getting this type of response, what must other people be encountering? “It was really saddening to me that people on either side of the argument didn’t seem to respectfully disagree.”
Ms Tannock said she experienced “vitriol” she had never seen before.
She added that the HRC could have better informed the public about its stance on same-sex marriage.
Ms Tannock said: “If I had to change something that I could do differently over that past six years, I would be more tolerant of people who had opinions that I did not agree with.
“I think what I should have done — myself not the HRC — there were segments of the community that I wish I would have listened to a little bit more so that I could understand where they were coming from.
“You can be so concerned with what you think is the appropriate thing to do that you fail to understand the point of view of others.
“I think a lot of times, because I failed to do that, I ended up preaching to the choir.”
The Court of Appeal dismissed the Government’s claim last November that former Chief Justice Ian Kawaley was wrong to strike down parts of the Domestic Partnership Act, which was designed to replace same-sex marriage with civil unions.
The Progressive Labour Party administration later requested permission to take the case to London’s Privy Council.
Ms Tannock said: “I don’t understand why the Government is appealing this decision.”
She added she was “very pleased” when legislation was passed to ban discrimination on the grounds of mental illness, but that “the major issue” of employment discrimination on the grounds of age should have been added as well.
Ms Tannock explained the Human Rights Act only offered protection based on age in relation to the disposal of premises and goods, services and facilities.
She said: “We actively campaigned to have the age of retirement lifted or even reviewed.
“Preferably, removed altogether, but reviewed in some manner.”
The PLP government said in its Throne Speech last year that a change to the mandatory public service retirement age would be considered.
Ms Tannock said: “I’m hopeful that maybe we’ll see a change come soon because with the cost of living in Bermuda now and the cost of health insurance, it’s really difficult for our seniors who are not working, who are able-bodied and capable, to have to retire mandatorily.
“I think it’s ironic that it’s not in the private sector that there’s this mandatory age of retirement, but it’s with the Government, who actually should be the ones who are leading the charge.”