Mauritian gay people seek legal protection

Gay and lesbian people on the conservative Indian Ocean island of Mauritius said on Tuesday they want protection against discrimination built into new human rights legislation.

Three days after staging the island-state’s first-ever gay rights rally, the small but increasingly vocal homosexual community on Mauritius said sexual orientation must be included in the law to be debated by Parliament in July.

”Currently there is a gap in the law concerning homophobia in Mauritius,” said Jean-Luc Ahnee, the spokesperson for the Collectif Arc-en-ciel (Rainbow Coalition), an organisation representing Mauritian gay people.

”Homosexuality is neither legal nor illegal, so if a victim of sexual discrimination complains to the police, they have no legal reference,” he said. ”That is why we are insisting that the Equal Opportunity Bill has provisions on discrimination based on sex, race or religion.

”There should be no second-class citizens in this country. It is time discrimination ended in this country.”

Although Mauritian law does not explicitly outlaw homosexuality, gay people here complain of rampant social discrimination despite provisions in the Constitution designed to prevent such bias.

In a bid to draw attention to their demands, the coalition sponsored a rally on Saturday south of the capital of Port Louis, attended by about 300 colourfully dressed gay people and their backers who called for equal rights.

”Visibility, equality and liberty”, ”No to homophobia”, ”I love the way I love”, and ”My sexuality, my choice” read some of the banners they carried in a march through the streets of the town of Rose Hill.

The rally passed off peacefully without any incidents, but it remains unclear whether the government will support efforts to write sexual orientation into the draft law.

Justice Minister Justice Rama Valayden said the Constitution already protects homosexuals, along with other minority groups, from discrimination.

”Article 1 of the Constitution of Mauritius is there to remind us that all are born equal before the law,” Valayden said. ”Homophobia is a serious problem in Mauritius. A society is not built on hate but love.” — Sapa-AFP

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