HAMILTON, Bermuda— The ruling Progressive Labour Party (PLP), in power for almost five months, has put the brakes on same-sex marriages in Bermuda which had been given the green light by a Supreme Court judge earlier this year.
One opposition MP called the government decision “shameful”.
However, gay couples who have already tied the knot in Bermuda this year will not be affected.
Legislation to replace same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships was passed in the House of Assembly on Friday night after a five-hour debate.
The Domestic Partnership Act 2017 was passed with 24 MPs supporting the bill and 10 opposing it.
Home Affairs Minister Walton Brown, who introduced the bill, said it would provide same-sex couples with a raft of legal rights but prevent any further same-sex marriages on the island.
“We need to find a way in Bermuda to fully embrace greater rights for all members of the community,” Brown said.
“But the status quo will not stand. On the ground, the political reality is that if we do not lead we would have a private member’s bill tabled to outlaw same-sex marriage.
“That bill would pass because more than 18 MPs are opposed to same-sex marriage. If that bill passes same-sex couples have no rights whatsoever. This is tough for me. But I don’t shy away from tough decisions.”
He also confirmed that the legislation would not have retroactive effect on same-sex marriages after the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year in the Godwin and DeRoche case against the Registrar-General.
In that case, Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons ruled that the Registrar-General could not reject a gay couple’s application to marry in Bermuda and that the common law definition of marriage as between a man and a woman was “inconsistent with the provisions of the Human Rights Act as they constitute deliberate different treatment on the basis of sexual orientation”.
During Friday’s debate, PLP backbencher Lawrence Scott said the bill brought balance and gave “the LGBTQ ((lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer) community the benefits it has been asking for”, while keeping the “traditional definition of marriage”.
“As it stands now, they 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,” he said.
However, Shadow Home Affairs Minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin said she could not support the bill “having given a community something only to take it away”.
“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,” she noted.
Leah Scott, One Bermuda Alliance’s (OBA) deputy leader, also said she could not support the bill because it took away a right that already existed.
Jeff Baron, the Shadow Minister of National Security, said it was a “very flawed and, frankly, shameful bill”.
Instead of protecting equality, he said, it was “stripping Bermuda’s reputation naked for the world to see”.
Grant Gibbons, the Shadow Economic Development Minister, described the bill as “regressive”.
“This is a human rights issue. We are taking away marriage equality rights from the LGBTQ community.”
Opposition Leader Jeanne Atherden added: “We are taking away rights that have been granted to communities of individuals who want to start families.”
PLP backbencher Scott Simmons agreed the bill was imperfect but said: “This government has decided to address this issue that no one else wanted to deal with.
“We set we would repeal and replace but we cannot satisfy everyone. It’s not perfect. But we have to go with what we have got.”
In June, a month before the OBA was trounced by the PLP in a general election, equal rights campaigners — including a former cabinet minister — celebrated Bermuda’s first gay marriage on the island.
The marriage ceremony of Bermudian lawyer Julia Saltus and her partner Judith Aidoo was conducted at the Registrar-General.
The nuptials came less than a month after the landmark Supreme Court ruling of May 5 which enabled gay people to marry on the island.
Former PLP cabinet minister Renee Webb, who tried unsuccessfully to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation more than a decade ago, said after the June ceremony: “I attended the wedding, along with many others.”
“The sky did not fall, nor did it fall when we attended the reception. Bermuda is indeed a beautiful place.”
A referendum last year, in which there was less than a 50 per cent turnout, resulted in voters overwhelmingly rejecting same-sex marriages and same-sex civil unions by a wide margin.
The May 5 court ruling cleared the way for Bermudian Winston Godwin and his Canadian partner Greg DeRoche to marry on the island.
In the event, the gay couple married in Toronto on May 20, saying that their legal battle had been about forcing overdue change in Bermuda.
It is not known how many gay couples have married in Bermuda since the first wedding in June.