Human rights committee in Parliament gave its go-ahead to anti-discrimination legislation to be discussed with its second reading by a parliamentary session despite attempts from the Georgian Orthodox Church to delay the bill.
A day before the lengthy committee hearing the Georgian Orthodox Church released a statement calling on the authorities to postpone discussion of the bill and to remove “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.
More than dozen of Orthodox priests were present at the session of parliamentary committee of human rights in Kutaisi on April 29, who were trying to convince lawmakers to take into consideration Patriarchate’s position and not to, as they were putting it, “legalize sin”, which would be “an insult of the Georgian traditions” and which would “cause confrontation” within the society.
Some priests have warned lawmakers from the Georgian Dream parliamentary majority group that they would face political consequences in case of their failure to heed Patriarchate’s calls against the bill.
After about two hours of debates, as it became obvious that neither the bill would be delayed nor “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” removed from the legislation, Orthodox clerics and non-parliamentary opposition politicians from the coalition led by Nino Burjanadze, attending the committee hearing, walked out of the chamber in protest.
Before leaving the chamber one priest told GD lawmakers: “Confrontation with the Church and the nation will bring no good to you.”
During the discussions one Orthodox cleric, Davit Lasurashvili, said that in private conversations some GD lawmakers “are telling me that they do not want this bill, but justify need of its adoption by EU’s demands.”
“Why should we implement these directives… why are we demanded to ignore our traditions in order to become part of the European family?.. No one would have voted for you if you had told [voters before the elections] that you were planning to adopt this law,” he told GD lawmakers. “You can’t be in my prayers if you don’t take into consideration the Church’s opinion.”
Adoption of the anti-discrimination law is one of those requirements, which Georgia has undertaken under its Visa Liberalisation Action Plan in order to be granted short-term visa-free regime by the EU.
“Who needs such Europe if this Europe depraves us,” archpriest Lasurashvili said.
Another priest, Davit Kvlividze, said that this legislation would make it impossible to reunite Georgia. “Abkhazians and [South] Ossetians are Caucasians and when they learn that we have such a law, they will fight to last drop of blood” in order not to be part of Georgia, Kvlividze said and added: “With this law we will lose Abkhazia and South Ossetia forever… We will ruin Georgia with this legislation.”
Representatives from the human rights, legal advocacy and watchdog groups were also present at the committee hearing; they are also criticizing the bill, but for absolutely different reasons – they believe that the bill is very weak, failing to provide efficient mechanisms for protection against discrimination.
During the debates one Orthodox priest, Giorgi Razmadze, told representatives of human rights groups present at the committee hearing that they should better go and see “Sodom and Gomorrah, the land which is still on fire – the Dead Sea. Why? It all started because of sins committed by people like you.”
A liberal-minded lawmaker from the GD parliamentary majority group, Tamar Kordzaia, a strong supporter of the bill was also slammed during the debates by Orthodox clerics and non-parliamentary opposition politicians. “What is now happening here is a violence against the Parliament and completely unacceptable for me,” MP Kordzaia said and left the hearing.
GD MP Eka Beselia, chairperson of the human rights committee, who presided over the hearing, said that the bill was “frequently misinterpreted”.
GD MP Manana Kobakhidze, the vice speaker of parliament, was telling the Orthodox clerics the bill had nothing to do with “propaganda” of homosexuality. “I will denounce my MP credential rather than to vote for a bill legalizing same-sex marriages. No one is legalizing same-sex marriages with this legislation,” she said.
MP Kobakhidze was among those several GD MPs who previously spoke in favor of removing the entire list of prohibited grounds of discrimination from the bill, but during the committee hearing on April 29 she no longer voiced such position.
After the Orthodox clerics and non-parliamentary opposition politicians walked out from the hearing in protest, representatives of the human rights organizations were given more chance to lay out their concerns over the bill, although they were also rejected by government’s parliamentary secretary.
The bill, which was passed with its first reading by the Parliament on April 17, has been under development for many months already; the process was led by the Justice Ministry through consultations with broad range of various stakeholders. Before submitting the bill to the Parliament, the government revised it, removing, among other provisions, a proposal offering financial penalties for violators of the law, triggering protest of human rights organizations, which argue that the proposed revised bill has no efficient mechanism to fight against discrimination.
UNM parliamentary minority group, which voted for the bill with its first reading, plans to further support it; but like human rights organizations, UNM lawmakers have also call on the authorities to make the legislation stronger by providing efficient implementation mechanisms.