Bermuda Senate Votes to Ban Gay Marriage

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by Alexander Slavsky  •  •  December 14, 2017   

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HAMILTON, Bermuda ( - Less than a week after the House voted to reverse same-sex marriage, the Senate passed the measure.

On Wednesday, senators approved the Domestic Partnership Act, voting 24 in favor and 10 against. The governor has to sign it into law. Government Senate leader Kathy Simmons mentioned that the bill reflects "the majority sentiment," according to local paper The Royal Gazette.

"We have a bill that gives rights to the minority," she commented. "It also protects the interests of the majority." 

A few Bermuda Alliance senators, Andrew Simons, Justin Mathias and Nandi Outerbridge, spoke out against the Domestic Partnership Act while it was debated in the Senate. The measure was proposed and organized by the Progressive Labour Party (PLP), the ruling party since July. All five Progressive Labour Party senators supported the bill, along with independent senators James Jardine and Michelle Simmons.
Opposition politicians to the measure argue that repealing gay marriage will hurt Bermuda's international reputation and tourism industry. The island has a population of 65,000 but has nearly 600,000 visitors each year.
"On a global scale, Bermuda has and continues to rely on our power to attract nations and people to our shores and our culture," according to Jeffrey Baron, shadow minister for national security.  
On Friday, the House of Assembly passed the legislation without amendment to replace same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships after a five-hour debate. The Domestic Partnership Act was approved with 24 votes for and 10 against. 
The bill will not repeal same-sex marriages that have occurred in the last six months following the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in May, after Bermudian native Winston Godwin and his partner Greg DeRoche brought their case to court. The May ruling contradicted a referendum in 2016, in which a majority voted against same-sex marriage and civil unions. 
I support [this bill] because at the end of the day it removes the right to same-sex marriage and it tells the court that this Parliament will stand for what is right.
Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons ruled in May that the Registrar-General could not reject a gay couple's marriage application in Bermuda and that the law at the time defining marriage 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." 
Backlash ensued after the court ruling, with popular support swelling for true marriage between a man and a woman. Once PLP won the majority of seats in Parliament in July, the party mobilized support for the reversal of the ruling, which led Home Affairs Minister Walton Brown to introduce the bill to replace same-sex marriage with civil unions, arguing that the law retains legal rights for gay couples.
Before the bill was passed, he said,

Walton Brown, Home Affairs Minister 

Introduced Domestic Partnership Act 2017

We need to find a way in Bermuda to fully embrace greater rights for all members of the community. 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.

During Friday's debate, PLP backbencher Lawrence Scott said the new law provides the "LGBTQ community the benefits it has been asking for" but retains "the traditional definition of marriage." 

"As it stands now, they can have the name 'marriage' but without the benefits," he continued. "But after this Bill passes, they have the benefits and just not the name marriage. The benefits are what they really want."

But Shadow Home Affairs Minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin does not support the bill because of the previous ruling in May and a supposed lack of justice. 

"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 argued.

Grant Gibbons, the Shadow Economic Development Minister, described the new law as "regressive," elaborating, "This is a human rights issue. We are taking away marriage equality rights from the LGBTQ community." Similarly, opposition leader Jeanne Atherden added: "We are taking away rights that have been granted to communities of individuals who want to start families." 

On the other hand, PLP backbencher Wayne Furbert favors the bill, even though it is limited in scope: "I support it because at the end of the day it removes the right to same-sex marriage and it tells the court that this Parliament will stand for what is right."

Waltar Roban, the Deputy Premier, also supports the measure based on the general consensus of the country — the "desire to bring some sort of stability on how the country will manage itself around this issue." 

PLP MP Scott Simmons agreed with the law, arguing that it "is the best solution. I support this bill and believe marriage should be between a man and a woman." 

Ruling party senator Crystal Caesar is in favor of the bill, arguing that the rights of the domestic partners will be systematized while also recognizing the majority of public opinion in Bermuda. "Society largely does not support same-sex marriage nor is it prepared to accept it at this time," she said. 

If the bill is approved and signed by the governor, the British overseas territory will become the first country to repeal homosexual marriage after it was already legalized. 

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