After Bermuda’s House of Assembly and Senate voted to reverse so-called same-sex marriage in December, the governor signed it into the law on Wednesday, making Bermuda the first country in the world to roll back gay marriage.
Bermuda’s governor, John Rankin, signed the measure into law after last year’s Bermuda Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage. Walton Brown, minister of home affairs, said the legislation reflects the resistance to same-sex marriage from the socially conservative island, while complying with European court rulings that recognize and protect same-sex partners in the territory.
“The act is intended to strike a fair balance between two currently irreconcilable groups in Bermuda, by restating that marriage must be between a male and a female while at the same time recognising and protecting the rights of same-sex couples,” commented Brown, whose ruling Progressive Labour Party (PLP) suggested the repeal.
Same-sex couples can register for a domestic partnership under the Domestic Partnership Act, while the nearly half-dozen gay marriages that occurred in Bermuda last year are recognized under the new law.
Brown said same-couples have the same rights as married heterosexual couples, including “the right to inherit in the case of no will, the right to a partner’s pensions, 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.”
LGBT activists claim domestic partnerships are equivalent to second-class status and it is unprecedented for a country to reverse gay marriage after legalizing it. Ty Cobb, director of Human Rights Campaign Global, remarked, “Governor Rankin and the Bermuda Parliament have shamefully made Bermuda the first national territory in the world to repeal marriage equality.”
“This decision strips loving same-sex couples of the right to marry and jeopardizes Bermuda’s international reputation and economy,” said Cobb.
In the U.K.’s House of Commons, Labour politician Chris Bryant insisted in a tweet on Wednesday, “This totally undermines UK effort to advance LGBT rights.” A month ago, he referred to the bill as a “deeply unpleasant and very cynical piece of legislation.”
Joe Gibbons, a 64-year-old same-sex “married” Bermudian, commented, “This is not equality, and the British government has obviously just said, ‘This is not our fight.'”
The junior foreign office minister, Harriet Baldwin, noted that the U.K. government was “obviously disappointed” with the reversal but insisted the Bermuda government passed the law through legal means: British territories, including Bermuda, are “separate, self-governing jurisdictions with their own democratically elected representatives that have the right to self-government.”
The House of Assembly passed the legislation December 8 without amendment to replace same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships after a five-hour debate. The Senate approved it December 13. The act was approved 24–10 in both houses.
The May ruling legalizing so-called same-sex marriage contradicted a referendum in 2016 in which a majority of citizens voted against same-sex marriage and civil unions by more than a margin of 2–1. Brown acknowledged the referendum on Wednesday, adding that the government believes “this Act addresses this position while also complying with the European courts by ensuring that recognition and protection for same-sex couples are put in place.”