HAMILTON – The victory for same-sex couples in Bermuda who earlier won the right to get married in the British Overseas Territory has been overturned.
Parliament has passed the Domestic Partnership Act 2017, which replaces same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships that can be entered into by both gay and heterosexual couples.
The decision came in the same parliamentary sitting in which a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis was passed with the support of the government and opposition sides.
Back in May, puisne judge Charles-Etta Simmons ruled that the Registrar-General could not reject an application by gay couple Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche 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”.
However, after five hours of debate, 24 MPs voted in favour of the legislation that home affairs minister Walton Brown said would provide same-sex couples with a raft of legal rights but prevent any further same-sex marriages. Ten MPs voted against the bill.
“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 members 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.”
Among those who opposed the bill were the shadow minister of National Security, Jeff Baron, who said it was a “very flawed and, frankly, shameful bill”; and opposition leader Jeanne Atherden who said the parliament was taking away rights that had been granted to communities of individuals who want to start families.
The Centre for Justice said it was disappointed that the 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,” the centre said in a statement.
“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 bill now requires passage by the senate.
Meantime, the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill to decriminalize possession of less than seven grammes of cannabis was also passed in the House of Assembly.
While possession of that quantity of the drug will not lead to sanctions, police will still be able to seize any amount of cannabis. There will also be regulations for substance abuse education or treatment for those caught with the drug.