PM Irakli Garibashvili said that anti-discrimination bill, which is being strongly opposed by the Georgian Orthodox Church, will definitely be adopted, but also said more communication is needed with the opponents in order to “explain properly” what this legislation is about.
“I want to explain briefly once again – I have an impression that certain part of the society has no information about [the bill], they perhaps do not understand or it has not been properly explained to them what this bill is about.”
He then continued by saying that this legislation is about, as he put it, “right of expression of people with different sexual orientation.”
“This bill does not imply propaganda or granting some special privileges to the people with different sexual orientation,” he told journalists on Wednesday evening.
“So this is about those rights which are [prescribed] in the constitution of our country; therefore, personally for me so much talk and so much hype [over this bill] is unexplained and incomprehensible.”
“Of course we will adopt this legislation and I want to explain to the public that we, our government – and I am responsible for that – will never adopt a legislation, which may pose a threat to the national interests of our country or to our country’s security or to the traditions and values,” the PM said.
“As far as the Patriarchate’s statement is concerned, our Patriarch is a wise person and knows very well what he does, but at the same time we know it very well where we are going to – we have an ambition and motivation to make our country once and for all a modern, civilized, strong, modernized state. If we agree that we want to have such a state with modernized economy, agriculture and other spheres, then we should agree on this and there is no need to have so much talk about it,”
In the statement on April 28 the Georgian Orthodox Church condemned the anti-discrimination bill as “propaganda and legalization” of a “deadly sin” and called on the authorities to postpone adoption of the bill and to remove from it “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” Next day over dozen of Orthodox priests attended a hearing of the parliamentary committee on human rights in Kutaisi, trying in vain to convince lawmakers to take into consideration the Patriarchate’s position over the bill. On April 30 Orthodox groups, led by clerics, held protest rallies in Kutaisi and Tbilisi. According to vice speaker of parliament, GD MP Manana Kobakhidze, the parliamentary session will discuss the bill with its second reading either on Thursday or Friday; government’s parliamentary secretary also voiced a similar position, but lawmakers from the UNM parliamentary minority group have suggested that the GD parliamentary majority group may yield to pressure from the Church and postpone adoption of the bill.
During discussions at the parliamentary committee of human rights on April 29, Orthodox priests, present at the hearing, warned lawmakers from the Georgian Dream parliamentary majority group that they would face political consequences if they leave Patriarchate’s calls against the bill unheeded.
In his remarks on the bill, PM Garibashvili also stressed that adoption of this legislation is important on the path of receiving short-term visa-free rules with the EU.
“Another major gain that we will have within next two years – and adoption of this legislation is a requirement for that – is a visa-free regime with the European Union. I want to remind you that just few days ago Moldova has achieved visa-free regime with the EU and we can get the same in next several years – in two-three years,” Garibashvili said.
“So I want to appeal with love and respect to all those people, who have been expressing concerns over adoption of this bill, and I want to calm them down that I am not less patriotic and not less defender of our national values. I will be the first to stand beside our country’s main values if they are ever threatened – whether it is our traditional Orthodoxy or something else. With adoption of this legislation we demonstrate that we are a strong nation and strong state and that we are not afraid of – and there were some talks about a ‘sin’ – we should not speak about ‘sin’, we should speak about development of the country and an Orthodox Christian has never been afraid of this or that sin – that’s our strength and we should prove with this that we are disposed towards building of a strong state,” he said.
“I am perhaps emotional, but what I have been watching in recent days is really unacceptable for me. Once again, I understand concern of these people, but I think that they do not have enough communication with a group of lawmakers and I also call on our team members to have more communication and to explain to these people that this bill poses no threat whatsoever to national values and traditions of our country.”
“I also want to call on the media to provide maximally objective information to the public, because as we see speculation has been stirred [over this bill],” Garibashvili said, adding that politicians also have special responsibility in this regard.
“I want to call on the public in general for a consolidation and to advise the public to keep calm and to keep more firmness and to keep more wisdom,” he said.
In an obvious attempt to mitigate attacks from various conservative and Orthodox groups, the government in late March offered the state constitutional commission, which is now working on drafting broader constitutional amendments, to consider defining marriage in the constitution as a “union of man and woman.” Same-sex marriage is already banned by Georgia’s civil code, which defines marriage as “voluntary union of man and woman.”
The government-proposed draft of anti-discrimination law includes a wording according to which provisions of this legislation should not be interpreted in a way that may contradict a constitutional agreement between the state and the Georgian Orthodox Church signed in 2002.