A Brazilian Senate Judiciary Committee, responsible for reviewing the Criminal Code, approved Friday a proposal to criminalize "homophobia" and other situations that can be considered discriminatory against homosexuals.
According the current wording of the bill, any person who discriminates based on gender, identity or sexual orientation as well as regional origin will face criminal charges. Under current laws only those who discriminate against another person because of race, color, ethnicity, religion or national origin can be prosecuted.
The new legislation's wording also proposes that any person discriminated against can request the commencement of legal proceedings at any time, even if the discriminatory act happened a long time ago. Moreover, under the proposals if the accused is arrested temporarily, controversially they will not have the right to be released on bail.
Under the new bill offenders can be given prison sentences of between two to five years. The penalty can be increased further if the offense is committed against a child or adolescent.
In the bill, the committee also listed conduct that may be considered discriminatory. These include blocking access to anyone duly authorized to access a government office or private places; denying service to someone in restaurants, hotels and other establishments; and to hamper the career progression of an individual due to the fact a person is a woman, is homosexual or from the Northeast part of the country.
The committee chairman, Gilson Dipp, welcomed the approval of the proposal. "It's a breakthrough because we are expanding the list of discriminatory acts, fulfilling the Constitution and updating the existing law," he said in an interview with Estadão publication.
However, the passing of the bill has not been celebrated by everyone. For a group of Senators and a number of evangelical groups, the bill's wording was too loose still and was not yet ready for final approval.
They believe that under the current "loose" wording religious freedom and freedom of speech will come under attack. The mainstream Church in Brazil believes scripture labels homosexuality as a sin. However, Christian leaders believe the new legislation could lead to religious leaders being charged with crimes for simply expressing the Bible's teachings.
Others have protested the new legislation saying that it is absurd for sexual orientation to be compared to race, and believe that although homophobia itself is unacceptable, that better comparisons should have been used and would have been more appropriate.
The bill's text still needs to be voted by Brazil's Congress before it can progress to become effective law.