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Sexual orientation clause removed from constitution

Lusa - December 14, 2001

Debate continued Thursday in East Timor's parliament on the future constitution of the territory, due to become independent next May. Members of the Constituent Assembly voted to remove the term "sexual orientation" from part of article 16 of the final draft constitution which deals with anti-discrimination.

The relevant section of the Constitution prohibits discrimination based on: "color, race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, social or economic status, convictions or political beliefs, religion, education and mental or physical condition.

In voting on the controversial section, 52 out of 88 assembly members backed the removal of the term "sexual orientation", which in practice could affect the equality of homosexual couples in an independent East Timor. The term "matrimonial state" replaced the controversial phrase, with 57 members voting in favor of this substitution.

The head of a Portuguese gay activist group, Antonio Serzedelo, said Thursday he thought it "very serious" that East Timor, which had "fought so hard against discrimination", had removed the "sexual orientation" proviso from the Constitution.

Serzedelo, president of Opus Gay, told Lusa, "In East Timor, as in Portugal, there are certainly many of homosexual orientation who fight for their rights, and others who do not fight so much ... nobody can discriminate against them for this".

The gay rights activist also pointed out that in the European Union, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is "a criterion for non-admission of countries".

"For Timor, this will not help negotiations at a European level", Serzeledo said, adding that it was not a question of negotiation, but of human rights.