The Prime Minister has spoken of her “regret” at Britain’s role in creating laws criminalising same-sex relationships while a colonial power, saying “they were wrong then and they are wrong now”.
Theresa May told the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting [Chogm] in London the UK would support member states which sought to reform “outdated” legislation affecting the relationships, or failed to protect women and girls.
Mrs May’s words were welcomed by LGBT activists, but came hours after a Trinidadian bishop had accused the UK of “a sort of neo-colonialism” by urging states to legalise homosexuality.
Mrs May told the Chogm event at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster: “I am all too aware that these laws were often put in place by my own country.”
“They were wrong then and they are wrong now.”
“As the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister I deeply regret both the fact that such laws were introduced and the legacy of discrimination, violence and death that persists today.”
“As a family of nations we must respect one another’s cultures and traditions but we must do so in a manner consistent with our common value of equality – a value that is clearly stated in the Commonwealth Charter.”
“Nobody should face discrimination or persecution because of who they are or who they love and the UK stands ready to help any Commonwealth member wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible.”
Mrs May’s speech was greeted by applause by the audience of delegates and supported by others not attending.
Among those delegates present for the speech was Gibraltar’s Minister for Equality, Samantha Sacramento, who championed same-sex marriage legislation in Gibraltar.
The summit runs for five days from April 16 to 20 under the theme “Towards a Common Future”.
It includes many Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers from the member states of the Commonwealth.
The summit commenced with three days of parallel forums on Business, Women, People and Youth
and saw 2000 delegates from across the Commonwealth in attendance.
This took place under the theme “An empowered future for women and girls” and will cover areas such as “Women in leadership”, “Gender parity in Education”, “Ending violence against women and girls and “Women, peace and security”.
The purpose of this forum is to affirm high-level support and direct top-level policies for gender equality and women’s rights, for women to be given the opportunity to interact with leaders and for the Commonwealth’s commitments to gender equality to be positioned high on the agenda for Heads of Government.
Ms Sacramento is part of the Gibraltar delegation currently in London and is participating in the Commonwealth Women’s Forum.
Gibraltar’s delegation is comprised of the Minister for Commerce Albert Isola, Mayor Kaiane Aldorino Lopez and young Gibraltarians, Tammy Randall and Jared Peralta, who were nominated to attend the Commonwealth Youth Forum.
Ms Sacramento is on the British Islands and Mediterranean Region Steering Committee of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians and also chairs a working group examining the role of the Parliaments of the region.
Yesterday she told the Chronicle that the scene was set by Baroness Scotland, Secretary General of the Commonwealth, who opened the first session on Monday.
Baroness Scotland is a leading figure on the development of women and is noted for her passion for the elimination of domestic abuse among other significant achievements, Ms Sacramento explained.
The opening session also heard from the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, who outlined a number of government initiatives in this respect.
Asked what she would take away from the summit, Ms Sacramento said: “As with all conferences it’s about continued learning, sharing of best practice and meaningful discussion of the relevant issues at the top level.”
A special edition of the British Parliament’s in-house magazine, which coincides with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, carries an article by Dr Garcia.
In ‘The House’ magazine, Dr Garcia insists that Gibraltar stands ready to engage with the Commonwealth.
“The Commonwealth is no new discovery for Gibraltar,” he writes adding: “We have for many decades engaged closely with our commonwealth friends and partners.”
“The fact that the United Kingdom is looking with new eyes at its old friends also creates a great opportunity for Gibraltar to forge new political, cultural and economic ties and opportunities with the modern Commonwealth,” Dr Garcia states.
Highlighting post-Brexit opportunities for Gibraltar in areas such as funds, traditional and alternative investment management, insurance companies and private clients he said Gibraltar remains very much open for business, proudly British and proud to be a part of the great Commonwealth family.