HAMILTON, Bermuda, Friday February 9, 2018 – 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”.
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) February 9, 2018
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) February 9, 2018
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.