The government of Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory in the North Atlantic, is seeking to repeal marriage equality and replace it with a domestic partnership arrangement. Bermuda achieved marriage equality through a Supreme Court ruling in May this year.
The effort to repeal marriage equality is being led by the 38-year-old premier E. David Burt and his Progressive Labour Party government, which took power in July. The Royal Gazette quoted Home Minister Walton Brown saying “...same-sex couples should have all the legal rights of heterosexual couples, save for marriage,” thus excluding loving same-sex couples from a right established by the Bermuda Supreme Court and effectively making them second-class citizens.
The draft bill for domestic partnerships was open for a two-week public consultation that ended yesterday. The government is now expected to bring the bill to a vote and enact domestic partnerships and effectively abolish marriage equality. Same-sex couples who are already married will not have their marriages voided.
The Supreme Court had ruled in May on a case brought by Bermudian Winston Godwin and his Canadian partner Greg DeRoche when the Registrar-General rejected their application to marry. In a message to HRC, plaintiff Winston Godwin commented, “I think it's very upsetting that once again we find ourselves having to fight for rights. This bill is discriminatory, it takes Bermuda a step in the wrong direction.” His husband Greg DeRoche added, “Introducing this bill strips a choice from the LGBT community,” warning that it “can have major repercussions for Bermuda's tourism, cultural and community relationships.”
According to Grant Spurling, a lawyer who represented the couple in the marriage equality case, “the (Bermuda Supreme) Court is bound by legislation” under Bermuda’s legal system unlike in the U.S. where courts can overturn legislation or policies that violate the Constitution, thus Bermuda’s legislature has primacy over the courts in many instances.
The marriage equality victory followed a major setback in June 2016 when Bermudans by large margins rejected both marriage equality and same-sex civil unions in a referendum. Fortunately, the referendum was invalid as turnout did not meet the required 50 percent threshold. Bermuda has made advances on LGBTQ rights in recent years, such as the decriminalization of consensual sex between men in 1994.
“For the new ‘Progressive’ Labor Party Government to overturn equality is shameful and despicable,” said Tony Brannon of Same Love Bermuda, an advocacy group that fought for marriage equality. “Please allow the Supreme Court of Bermuda ruling to stand and do the right thing for humanity.”
HRC will continue to follow developments in Bermuda. Read more about our work here.