The Georgian Orthodox Church said in a statement on Monday that proposed anti-discrimination bill is considered by believers as “propaganda and legalization” of a “deadly sin” because it includes “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.
“Introduction of a notion of ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ – non-existent in the constitution – into this bill, important for development of our country, triggers a huge anxiety in the people, because personal rights of our citizens are already equally protected by the existing Georgian legislation. Proceeding from God’s commandments, believers consider non-traditional sexual relations to be a deadly sin, and rightly so, and the anti-discrimination bill in its present form is considered to be a propaganda and legalization of this sin,” the Patriarchate said in the statement, read out by archpriest Mikael Botkoveli secretary of the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II.
“We believe it [the bill] casts doubt on moral principles, recognized by all the religions; hence, it creates the threat of discrimination of a broader public,” reads the statement.
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.
Statement of the Patriarchate also reads: “The EU represents diverse space unifying different nations and religions, which declares that it recognizes culture and traditions of various people and is ready to take into consideration and respect our values. But provisions of this bill are in conflict with these principles.”
“We respectfully ask the Georgian Parliament to postpone adoption of the bill in its present form and to secure engagement of the Church and broader public in its discussion in order to reach an agreement and in order not to let hasty actions to have negative impact on our country’s European aspiration,” reads the statement.
Although some Orthodox clerics have spoken out against the proposed anti-discrimination bill, either during the discussions at the parliamentary committee hearings or in televised remarks, this is the first time when the Patriarchate voices its position on the issue.
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. On April 28 dozens of human rights organizations released a joint statement laying out once again their concerns in this regard.
The bill says that it provides for protection against discrimination on the grounds of race, color, language, gender, age, citizenship, native identity, birth, place of residence, property, social status, religion, ethnic affiliation, profession, family status, political or other beliefs, health condition, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, expression and “other grounds.”
The Parliament is expected to discuss the bill with its second reading this week. Some lawmakers are expected to push for removing the entire list of prohibited grounds of discrimination; among these lawmakers is vice-speaker of Parliament, GD MP Manana Kobakhidze. During the discussion of the bill with its first reading she indicated that as far as the article first of the draft law reads that the goal of this legislation is “elimination of all forms of discrimination” there is no need to further specify what kind of grounds of discrimination there might be; this suggestion indirectly echoes demands of those groups, which insist on removal of “sexual orientation” from the list.
GD lawmaker, Tamar Kordzaia, who is among strong supporters of the bill, said after the Patriarchate’s statement was released: “This bill is an example of taking into account opinion of all the stakeholders. It reflects demands of both the Patriarchate and non-governmental organizations. But when we discuss this bill we should not forget that its cornerstone is protection of rights of minorities and every word that comes in conflict with it [protection of minority rights] and which aims at infringing the rights of minorities should not be taken into consideration by the Parliament.”
UNM MP Sergo Ratiani said after the Patriarchate’s statement was released: “It is strange to me that the institution, the Church, which itself was target of discrimination in the 20th century [under the Soviet rule] might be against of the anti-discrimination bill.”
EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle expressed hope during a meeting with President Margvelashvili in Prague on April 25 that Georgia will “quickly” adopt anti-discrimination legislation in order to move ahead with the visa liberalization.