(CNS): Tara Rivers, the minister with responsibility for gender affairs, has denied that issues relating to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, including the controversial question of same-sex marriage or civil unions, fall under her area of responsibility. In a statement to the Legislative Assembly, she said that the gender affairs part of her portfolio relates to the “economic, social and cultural attributes, roles and opportunities and the social constructs around gender” but nevertheless claimed that she was not accountable for policies that relate to LGBT people impacted by society’s interpretations of gender.
Reading the four page statement to her colleagues Wednesday, she stated that there were misunderstandings “articulated by a certain media house” (which she did not name) relating to her ministry’s mandate for policies dealing with LGBT people.
Rivers failed to speak in the recent debate on same-sex relationships and the call for a referendum on gay marriage. However, she has now rejected outright that her ministry has the remit to deal with discrimination against or policies to protect the LGBT community.
Speaking about ensuring that men and women are afforded the same opportunities in society, Rivers did not deal with modern concepts of gender fluidity, nor did she address the discrimination faced by many people in the community that do not necessarily identify with a specific gender, regardless of their physical sex or their sexual orientation. But as the minister responsible for gender affairs, it may have been expected that her ministry, above any other, would be best placed to help develop policies protecting members of the LGBT community against discrimination.
Rivers said sexual orientation is not an enumerated ground for discrimination under the gender equality law. Sexual orientation, she claimed, was used to describe “whether a person has a romantic attraction or feels sexual desire for people of the opposite sex or gender, same-sex or gender, or both sexes or more than one gender”. While Rivers cited the American Psychological Association, which has said that sexual orientation “also refers to a person’s sense of identity”, she still did not see the obvious connections.
“Sexual orientation is not a specified ground for discrimination under the Gender Equality Law, 2011 nor is it contained in the definition of discrimination against women,” the minster told her colleagues. She said that there was no “ministerial imperative or constitutional responsibility to weigh in or speak on a motion dealing with same-sex marriage”, as she repeated her position the this is not her ministry’s mandate.
Rivers pointed out that the “aim of gender equality is for society to equally value the similarities and the differences of men and women, and the roles they play”, but she did not accept that meant she had the responsibility for the LGBT community. She said that her role as minister for gender affairs was “to continue to drive policy initiatives and legislative changes… which promote gender equality; but promoting gender equality should not be confused with advocating for same-sex marriage or LGBT issues generally”.