Human rights questions should not be determined by referenda
Recently, the leader of Democratic National Alliance (DNA) proffered the idea that a referendum to decide on LGBT rights in The Bahamas might be the path to resolving the issue now and for the future. I disagree. Notwithstanding that The Bahamas has a particular history and culture that emphasizes a Christian tradition, leaving the rights and protections of any minority group, even LGBT persons, at the mercy of the vote of the majority is a dangerous and ill-advised idea.
The contention that the majority can legitimize the rights of a minority is essentially flawed. Rights are not given or taken away from a minority by the majority; rights are both recognized and protected under the law or they are not. History is rife with examples of minorities in societies the world over suffering discrimination and sometimes worse at the hands of an intolerant majority. Far fewer are examples where the majority upheld the rights of a minority through a referendum. This is because, as a whole, societies are slower than individuals to change and grow with the times, and, by their nature, majorities are resistant to minorities. And this is certainly true here in our beautiful Bahamaland, where the majority consider themselves to be of the Christian persuasion when it comes to LGBT rights.
The most basic purpose of LGBT rights advocacy is to protect these minority members of society from discrimination and to assure them of equal treatment. Article one of the Universal Declaration of Human rights sets out that all human beings are entitled by virtue of basic existence to liberty and equality. Further, the declaration goes on: “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.”
These basic human rights have become more than aspirational ideals. They are considered the benchmarks of progress in human societies. Discrimination against LGBT persons should be considered a violation of basic human rights. Any suggestion that we in The Bahamas hold a referendum on the issue is simply a thin smoke screen obscuring the attempt to further discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
There have always been lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Bahamians. While the issue of equality and protection from discrimination may not have been a topic of conversation, silence and invisibility has not shielded them from stigma and inequality. That shield will have to come with the recognition of their equal rights as Bahamian citizens; how that is achieved is still an open question. What is not an open question is the result of any popular vote on LGBT rights.