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Bermuda Parliament Says No to Same-Sex Marriage, Yes to Cannabis
Bermuda has reversed marriage equality, with Governor John Rankin finally approving the Domestic Partnership Act 2017 that replaces same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships that can be entered into by both gay and heterosexual couples.
“After careful consideration in line with my responsibilities under the Constitution, I have today given assent to the Domestic Partnership Act 2017,” he announced on Wednesday, almost two months after the Act was passed in the British Overseas Territory.
Although gay marriage is now no longer allowed in Bermuda or on Bermuda-registered cruise ships, same-sex couples already married under Bermuda law before the commencement date of the Domestic Partnership Act will maintain that status. Additionally, any overseas same-sex marriages taking place before the Act took effect will also be recognized as marriages in the island.
The Act had been awaiting the Governor’s assent since it was passed by the House of Assembly and Senate last December. The issue had been debated in Britain’s House of Commons, with some Opposition MPs suggesting that the United Kingdom government should instruct Rankin not to give assent to the legislation.
But Bermuda’s Minister of Home Affairs Walton Brown, who had tabled the legislation in Parliament, was pleased that Rankin had signed off on the Act, saying that Bermuda was now among the first countries of the English speaking Caribbean to pass legislation providing legal recognition to same-sex couples.
“The Domestic Partnership Act permits any couple [heterosexual or homosexual] to enter into a domestic partnership and gives same-sex couples rights equivalent to those enjoyed by heterosexual married couples; rights that were not guaranteed before the passage of this Act,” he said.
“The rights now guaranteed under the Domestic Partnership Act include: the right to inherit in the case of no will, the right to a partner’s pension, access to property rights, the right to make medical decisions on behalf of one’s partner and the right to live and work in Bermuda as the domestic partner of a Bermudian.”
The British government has made it clear it would have preferred Bermuda to maintain marriage equality, but also said it did not feel it had any grounds to impose that on its overseas territory.
“We are obviously disappointed about the removal of same-sex marriage in Bermuda,” Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Harriett Baldwin said in the House of Commons yesterday.
However, she added, “it would not be appropriate to use the power to block legislation, which can only be used where there is a legal or constitutional basis for doing so, and even then, only in exceptional circumstances.”
But Opposition MP Chris Bryant, an openly gay former Overseas Territories Minister, described the development as “a backward step for human rights in Bermuda and in the overseas territories”.
The US-based Human Rights Campaign also issued a statement on social media after Governor Rankin gave his assent, saying that the decision “strips loving same-sex couples of the right to marry and jeopardizes Bermuda’s international reputation and economy”.
Winston Godwin-DeRoche – who along with his now-husband Greg filed the legal challenge which resulted in the Supreme Court giving the green light to same sex marriage in May 2017, told Bernews that the couple was “deeply saddened” the Governor had given his assent to the Bill.
“It’s a sad day for Bermuda, it’s a sad day for human rights. Bermuda has officially become the first country to reverse same-sex marriage. To the LGBT community, this is not a defeat. While Greg and I were the face of this case, we represented every single one of you, and helped to give a voice to those that didn’t have one. Because of you, we were able to make a difference in the lives of eight couples, and that’s something that shouldn’t be understated or forgotten,” he said, referring to the eight marriages performed after he and his partner won the court case.
In the gay couple’s case, Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons ruled that the Registrar-General could not reject their application to marry in Bermuda, and that the common law definition of marriage as being 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”.
She said that not allowing same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Attorney-at-law Mark Pettingill says there could be a legal challenge to the legislation soon. He said he has received instructions from a client – whom he did name – to file a challenge in the court.
First Same-Sex Marriage Takes Place in Bermuda
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.
Gay Couple in Bermuda Takes Fight to Marry to the Courts
Gay couple wins right to marry in Bermuda
Bermuda had its first gay wedding less than a month after a case brought by a homosexual couple ended with a judge’s landmark ruling that same-sex couples have a right to marry in the island.
Lesbian partners Julia Saltus and Judith Aidoo has the distinction of being the first same-sex couple to tie the knot, after saying their vows at the Registry-General before the Assistant Registrar last Wednesday.
On May 5, in a civil suit brought by Bermudian Winston Godwin and Canadian Greg DeRoche, Judge Charles-Etta Simmons ruled that not allowing same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Despite the historic ruling, the couple later opted to say their vows in Canada.
The news that the first same-sex marriage had taken place was disclosed during a Supreme Court hearing last Thursday.
During the hearing which was held to determine the exact wording of her order declaring that gay marriage is legal, as well as costs in the case brought by Godwin and DeRoche, Justice Simmons asked whether any same-sex marriage had taken place in Bermuda as yet.
Deputy Solicitor-General Shakira Dill-Francois and attorney for the Human Rights Commission, Rod Attride-Stirling, disclosed that one had been held the day before.
The historic nuptials have been welcomed by many.
Former Cabinet minister Renée Webb, who had tried unsuccessfully to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation more than a decade ago, attended the wedding.
She told The Royal Gazette newspaper that the newlyweds were not interested in “being trailblazers”, and “simply wanted to get married here”.
The Rainbow Alliance of Bermuda also congratulated the couple.
“Many other gay Bermudian couples have been waiting decades for the chance to marry their loved one and we’re excited to see people already take advantage of this move towards equality,” it said in a statement.
Mark Pettingill, who represented Godwin and DeRoche, told the newspaper that he was thrilled to hear about the wedding ceremony and expressed the hope that “there will be many more to follow in short order”.
WINSTON GODWIN (LEFT) AND GREG DEROCHE (RIGHT) WON THE RIGHT TO MARRY IN BERMUDA. (PHOTO: FACEBOOK/GREG DEROCHE)
A gay couple and the wider LGBT community in Bermuda is celebrating a victory after a High Court today ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in that island.
In fact, the judge ruled that not allowing same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Bermudian native Winston Godwin and his Canadian partner Greg DeRoche went to court to challenge the Registrar-General’s decision to reject their application to marry in Bermuda.
Their attorneys argued that the Human Rights Act took primacy in Bermuda and protected the couple’s right to marry.
Judge Charles-Etta Simmons agreed.
“The applicants were discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation when the Registrar refused to process their notice of intended marriage,” she ruled.
“The applicants are entitled to an Order of Mandamus compelling the Registrar to act in accordance with the requirements of the Marriage Act and a declaration that same-sex couples are entitled to be married under the Marriage Act.”
Godwin, who was in Bermuda for the ruling, said the judge’s decision was “a big step in the right direction”.
“I cannot thank my legal team and my supporters enough…It has been a long time coming. This ruling, although it was in our favour…there is still so much more to do in Bermuda,” added the Bermudian who said that although DeRoche was in Canada at the time, he would join him soon to celebrate their victory.
The couple later issued a statement saying that they appreciated all the support they had received.
“This has been a long process, but well worth the fight. Hopefully this brings forward hope and courage for those who were/are afraid to speak up or come out. This is a moment we are proud of and will never forget,” they said.
And in a release issued after the ruling, LBGT group the Rainbow Alliance said it was “a victory for all same-gender loving people in Bermuda”.
“In this decision, the courts have affirmed that the love between two consenting adults is worth protecting with law, regardless of gender. This outcome ensures that same-gender couples can enjoy the same legal protections as heterosexual spouses do. This outcome preserves the notion that love is the greatest force of all,” it said.
The court decision comes a year after government held a referendum on whether same-sex civil unions or marriages should be allowed in Bermuda. Voters had rejected both options, but because of low voter turnout, the outcome was non-binding.