As feared by LGBTI advocates, the Bermuda Assembly has voted to bar further same-sex marriages. The decision comes just six months after the North Atlantic British Overseas Territory ruled in favor of introducing equal marriage.
Instead, lawmakers want to introduce domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. These would offer the same rights as opposite-sex marriage, but without the title of ‘marriage’.
Same-sex marriage was allowed following a judge’s ruling in May after a local couple, Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche, challenged local laws. However, although that decision granted same-sex couples the right to marry, it didn’t automatically grant them the same rights as heterosexual married couples.
‘The benefits are what they really want’
Walton Brown, Minister for Home Affairs, introduced his Domestic Partnership Act 2017 to the Bermuda House Assembly. It was voted on Friday.
One of those to speak in favor of the bill was backbench Progressive Labour Party MP Lawrence Scott. He said, ‘As it stands now, they [the LGBTI community] can have the name marriage but without the benefits. But after this Bill passes, they have the benefits and just not the name marriage. The benefits are what they really want.’
Among those to speak against the legislation was shadow home affairs minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin. She said: ‘I don’t like to accept that it is OK for us to treat our sisters and brothers differently, whether fair or unfair, to treat them differently under similar circumstances.’
Following a five-hour debate, the legislation was passed by 24 votes for and 10 against.
Bermuda LGBTI group Rainbow Alliance said it was, ‘Disappointed the Government of Bermuda has taken the approach it has to remove marriage equality from the law.
‘We are in agreement with the Human Rights Commission (HRC) that the proposed legislation creates a “watered down” version of rights, leading to a separate but equal status under the law. Ultimately, no separate but equal measure allows for equality or justice.’
A spokesperson for the local human rights organization Centre of Justice issued a statement saying, ‘The passing of the Bill came as no surprise. We are not resiling from our disappointment that Government chose to roll back full marital equality.
‘That said, we were encouraged by a floor amendment giving recognition to all same sex marriages that have taken outside Bermuda prior to the commencement of the Domestic Partnership Act, a recommendation that Centre for Justice and the Human Rights Commission had proposed to Minister Brown during consultation.
‘It was also encouraging to hear the change of tone in discourse in many speeches given on Friday night.
‘Several MPs acknowledged that this issue highlights a generational gap and philosophical difference between parents and their young adult children whose worldview is more inclusive and progressive. Several MPs recognize and acknowledged that this marital equality will not end with this Bill. Hopefully, Bermuda will get there sooner than later.’
The legislation now needs to be passed by the 11 members of the Bermuda Senate and then signed into law by the island’s Governor. This process could take several months. If the Senate members disagree with the ruling, they could send the legislation back to the Assembly.