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Same-sex/gay marriage in Bermuda

1995 to 2017-May

Part 1

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About Bermuda:

Bermuda consists of a group of 181 islands in the North Atlantic Ocean. Its total area is 53.2 km2 or 20.5 square miles. It lies due east of Fripp Island, SC, USA. 1

According to Wikipedia:

Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory in the North Atlantic Ocean. It is approximately 1,070 km (665 mi) east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, NC in the U.S.; 1,236 km (768 mi) south of Cape Sable Island, NS in Canada; and 1,578 km (981 mi) north of Puerto Rico. U.S. The capital city is Hamilton. Bermuda is an associate member of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) even though it is located some distance from Caribbean islands. ... The government is pattered after that of England with an appointed Senate of 11 members and an elected 35 member House of Assembly.

The main religion, Christianity, is followed by 74% of the population, and includes Roman Catholicism, and a wide assortment of Protestant and other denominations. 19% of adults are religiously unaffiliated, including Agnostics, Atheists, those who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, etc. Non-Christian religions are followed by 6% of the population. The official language is English.

The 2010 census counted 64,000 people. 1 Its LGBT community probably consists of about 6,500 persons, including young persons who will only recognize their same-sex attraction later in life.

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Steps toward the legalization of gay marriage:

Bermuda was one of the last predominately English speaking countries to legalize same-sex marriage (a.k.a. gay marriage). They followed Canada, the United States, the UK, and Ireland.

Their government's steps towards marriage equality included:

  • 1995-MAY: Passage of a bill decriminalizing consensual sex between two male adults. 2

  • 2006-MAY: Member of Parliament (MP) Renee Webb sponsored a private member's bill to amend the Human Rights Act. It would have added sexual orientation to the existing list of protected classes, which included race, place of origin, color, religion etc. Banning of discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services, employment, education, etc. would have been included.

    That amendment would have protected heterosexuals, homosexuals, and bisexuals equally against discrimination. However, the bill died without any action having been taken. Some MPs were concerned that if homosexuals and bisexuals were given equal rights that they could later attain marriage equality through the courts.

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  • 2013-JUN: By this time, the state of Massachusetts in the U.S. and the entire country of Canada had already legalized gay marriage for almost a decade. Eleven U.S. States, including some relatively large states -- California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington State -- had also attained marriage equality.

A bill was introduced to the Bermuda House of Assembly to amend the Human Rights Act to add two protected classes: sexual orientation and age.

Craig Cannonier, the Premier and leader of the "One Bermuda Alliance Party" (OBA) made a promise to continue to restrict marriage to a union of one woman and one man. He said:

"I can assure you that under my leadership this [amendment] is not about same-sex marriage. ... Under my leadership that will not happen." 3

Financial minister, Bob Richard, commented:

"We have a Marriage Act. So if anything was going to be done about changing the ability of people to get married, of the same sex, it would have to be done to the Marriage Act not to the Human Rights Act." 3

That statement appears to be accurate, as far as any effort by the Government to legalize gay marriage is concerned. However, he apparently did not consider the alternate route to attain marriage equality: through the court system. This path towards marriage equality had been quite successful in the U.S.

During the debate on the Human Rights Act amendment, Attorney General Mark Pettingill discussed civil unions. He said:

"My own personal view is this, that for a gay couple not to have rights under the law of survivorship is an abomination. We are going to ultimately, in my view -- everyone knows I am a pretty liberal AG -- we are going to have to look at how we address that particular issue with regards to people’s rights.

Other countries had civil partnership acts and so on. So at least we are able to address that people who have been in co-existing relationships for many, many years. And we have people in those relationships in this country who have adopted children, let’s not kid ourselves.

Those are the types of of rights we are going to have to consider, that I certainly am considering having conversations about, and we have to have that type of consideration." 3

On JUN-14, the House approved the amendment after a nine-hour debate. It became illegal to discriminate against another person on the basis of the latter's sexual orientation in employment, selling goods and services, and housing. 2

  • 2016-FEB: Attorney General Trevor Moniz announced at a public meeting that the government would introduce a system of civil unions for committed same-sex couples. He indicated that this move was necessary in order to align the country with the European Convention of Human Rights and recent legal precedents in both Bermuda and Europe. He said:

    "There is nothing to be afraid of. We are putting our cards on the table and recognizing that it is a compromise but it is the best thing to do for everyone. All we are talking about is giving people their rights required by law. ... We will protect marriage for a man and a woman but we will also propose the idea of civil unions. If the legislation comes through the House of Assembly that will be a conscious [sic] vote. Whether it passes or fails is a question of the individual [member]." 4

    Moniz probably intended to say the phrase "conscience vote" or was misquoted. This is a vote where each member is not obligated to vote the way that her or his party wishes; instead they could vote according to their own preference.

    Only same-sex couples would be eligible to enter in to civil unions. A same-sex couple legally married in another country would not have their marriage recognized in Bermuda. Instead, they would be recognized as being only in a civil union in Bermuda.

    "Redford," a reader of the the Royal Gazette posted one of the 118 comments attached to the article concerning same-sex marriages. He wrote:

    "Bermuda gets more Alice in Wonderland by the minute. All the time, effort and noise that has gone into trying to block basic human rights to a segment of our population. And, for what?" 4

  • 2016-JUN-23: A non-binding public referendum was held concerning the legalization of same-sex relationships. The public was asked to vote on two questions:
    • Whether they favored extending the eligibility to marry to include same-sex couples. Results were 31% in favor and 69% opposed. However, only 47% of eligible voters turned out to vote. This was below the 50% required to make the referendum's result to be deemed "answered."

    • The second question asked whether they favored making same-sex civil unions available to same-sex couples. It was also defeated 63% to 37%. Again only 47% of eligible voters actually voted, making the referendum invalid. 5

  • 2016-JUL-06: Following the referendum, two same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses. They are Winston Godwin from Bermuda and his Canadian fiancÚ, Greg DeRoche. This is a familiar step often taken in the past within various U.S. states where the applicants were routinely refused, and then launched a lawsuit which eventually ended up legalizing gay marriage. On 2016-JUL-08, as expected, the office of the Registrar General rejected the Bermuda couples' applications. The couples' attorney then filed a writ with the Supreme Court of Bermuda asking for a ruling whether the refusal violated the Human Rights Act. 6

  • 2017-FEB-01: Chief Justice Charles-Etta Simmons of the Supreme Court held a three-day hearing on the writ. 6

  • 2017-MAY-05: The Chief Justice issued his ruling on MAY-05. He wrote:

    "... on the facts, the applicants (Winston Godwin and his Canadian fiancÚ, Greg DeRoche) were discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation when the Registrar refused to process their notice of intended marriage. ... 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."

Reacting to the ruling, Rainbow Alliance, a pro-LGBT equality group, issued a statement saying, in part,that they were:

"... overwhelmed with joy at the conclusion of today’s historic ruling. We applaud the landmark decision by Justice Charles Etta-Simmons. Today, history has been made and love has won.

This ruling is not only a victory for a brave young couple willing to fight for their love: Winston Godwin and his fiance Greg DeRoche. This ruling is 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." 7

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Preserve Marriage, an anti-LGBT equality group responded to the ruling, stating:

"... Today a single judge, Justice Charles Etta-Simmons, of the Supreme Court of Bermuda has decided to redefine the institution of marriage.

By imposing this judgment, the court has ruled against many in the community of Bermuda.

The decision has heightened the cultural divide in this country and has further fractured our society. The members of Preserve Marriage and the diverse population we represent, acknowledge the judgment of the court, but profoundly disagree with it for some of the following reasons.

The judgment is an attack on traditional marriage.

It is an attack on Christian and other faith-based and traditional values.

... the judgment directly undermines the diverse population of Bermuda, specifically, the over 14,100 persons who participated in the referendum. Preserve Marriage takes the position that the referendum fell short of the required votes to be official because the Premier who called the referendum, stated publicly, that it would be non-binding. This had an obvious impact on the number of people who voted. ..."

"The redefinition of marriage in other countries has led to the reinvention of gender among children; the erosion of parenting rights to govern what their children are taught as it relates to gender and same-sex education; and the false perception that the church, faith-based organisations, and non-faith affiliated citizens who stand for traditional marriage are promoting bigotry or hate speech.

"Bermuda has now become the only country in the world to introduce same-sex marriage through the ruling of a single judge." 8

On MAY-09, Pat Gordon-Pamplin, the Minister of Home Affairs, said that the government would not appeal the court's ruling.

The first wedding banns for a same-sex couple were posted on MAY-17. The first same-sex wedding was solemnized on MAY-31. The British Overseas Territory became the newest of about two dozen governments around the world that had attained marriage equality.

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Bermuda," Wikipedia, as on 2017-JAN-03, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. "Finally! The Human Rights Act Amendment is Passed!." Rainbow Alliance of Bermuda, 2013-JUN, at: http://rainbowbermuda.org/
  3. Premier Cannonier: No same sex marriage," Bernews, 2014-JUN-19, at: http://bernews.com/
  4. Simon Jones, "Civil union legislation plans unveiled," The Royal Gazetter, 2016-FEB-12, at: http://www.royalgazette.com/
  5. "Bermudian same-sex union and marriage referendum,2016," Wikipedia, as on 2017-MAR-26, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  6. "Same-sex marriage in Bermuda," Revolvy, undated, at: https://www.revolvy.com/
  7. "Rainbow Alliance: 'Love always wins'," The Royal Gazetter, 2016-MAY-05, at: http://www.royalgazette.com/
  8. "Preserve Marriage: 'Ruling is attack on values," The Royal Gazetter, 2016-MAY-05, at: http://www.royalgazette.com/

How you may have arrived here:

Home > Religious info. > Basic > Marriage > Same-sex marriage > SSM menu > here

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Author: B.A. Robinson
Originally posted on: 2018-JAN-04
Latest update: 2018-JAN-07
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