Metro Weekly

Bermuda becomes first national territory in world to repeal marriage equality

New law replaces marriages with domestic partnerships, available to all, regardless of sexual orientation

Bermuda’s South Shore, as seen from the Wyndham Hotel – Photo: James G. Howes, via Wikimedia.

Bermuda has become the world’s first national territory to repeal same-sex marriage.

The governor of the British island territory has signed into law a bill that replaces same-sex marriages with domestic partnerships.

Gov. John Rankin and supporters of the measure sought to spin the legislation as a positive for LGBTQ couples, who will now be able to obtain domestic partnerships that entitle them to rights that are purportedly “equivalent” to those enjoyed by married heterosexual couples.

Under the legislation, both same-sex and heterosexual couples will be able to obtain domestic partnerships. Those of any sexual orientation who already married will continue to retain the title of “married,” and will not lose any of the rights they currently enjoy.

Rankin came under heavy pressure from conservatives on the island who oppose same-sex marriage, as well as from European courts, which have ruled that European nations, and territories under their rule, must ensure some form of legal protection for same-sex couples, even if there is an existing ban on same-sex marriage.

Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs for Bermuda, hailed Rankin’s decision to sign the legislation as a victory and a compromise that ensures protections for LGBTQ people, according to the Royal Gazette.

“While the majority of Bermudians do not agree with same-sex marriage — as evidenced by the [2016] referendum [to ban gay marriage] — it is the Government’s belief that 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,” Brown said in a statement.

“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 recognizing and protecting the rights of same-sex couples,” Brown continued. “Bermuda will continue to live up to its well-earned reputation as a friendly and welcoming place, where all visitors, including LGBT visitors, will continue to enjoy our beauty, our warm hospitality and inclusive culture.”

But LGBTQ advocates have long warned that the legislation is essentially a repeal of same-sex marriage, and will embolden religious and conservative activists across the world to push legislation to slowly strip away legal protections for LGBTQ people.

Activists expect opponents of same-sex marriage to take steps similar to Bermuda to undermine court rulings finding that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional or unlawful. LGBTQ Bermudans earned the right to marry in May 2017, when a judge ruled that Bermuda’s Registrar General could not reject a gay couple’s application to marry. Since then, conservatives have been intent on pushing the domestic partnership law in order to keep the term “marriage” nearly exclusive to heterosexual couples.

The Human Rights Campaign blasted Gov. Rankin’s decision to acquiesce to anti-LGBTQ forces.

Governor Rankin and the Bermuda Parliament have shamefully made Bermuda the first national territory in the world to repeal marriage equality,” Ty Cobb, the director of HRC Global, said in a statement.

This decision strips loving same-sex couples of the right to marry and jeopardizes Bermuda’s international reputation and economy,” Cobb added, referencing warnings from the Bermuda Tourism Authority that repealing marriage equality would be viewed as a hostile anti-LGBTQ action that could negatively impact the island’s tourism industry. A similar situation occurred in North Carolina after lawmakers there passed an anti-transgender “bathroom bill” that also stripped away the authority for localities in the state to pass nondiscrimination legislation

“Despite this deplorable action, the fight for marriage equality in Bermuda will continue until the day when every Bermudian is afforded the right to marry the person they love,” Cobb said.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com