The global marriage equality movement suffered a setback this week when Bermuda became the first country in the world to repeal same-sex marriage.
On Wednesday, Bermuda’s governor, John Rankin, signed a controversial bill replacing same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships into law. The act offers same-sex couples similar rights to those enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.
Human rights activists, however, say that it is unacceptable to reverse an existing right, and that barring same-sex couples from full marriage recognition is discriminatory.
The move comes less than a year after the Bermuda Supreme Court ruled that barring same-sex couples from marrying was in contravention of the country’s Human Rights Act. Until that point same-sex couples had no avenues to legal recognition.
The government believes, however, that by banning same-sex marriage and instead allowing same-sex couples to enter into domestic partnerships it is striking a balance between recognising same-sex relationships while respecting the nation’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
In a June 2016, 51% of Bermudians voted against legalising both same-sex unions and marriages in a referendum.
Walton Brown, Bermuda’s Minister of Home Affairs, said in a statement that the domestic partnerships legislation affirms “that marriage must be between a male and a female while at the same time recognising and protecting the rights of same-sex couples”.
Brown added that the eight or so same-sex couples “already married under Bermuda law before the commencement date of this Act will continue to be recognised as being married”.
Bermudian Winston Godwin and his Canadian husband, Greg DeRoche, who won the right to marry in the Bermuda Supreme Court last year, said were deeply disappointed.
In a statement, Godwin wrote that, “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.”
Greg DeRoche & Winston Godwin
He continued: “To the LGBT community, this is not a defeat. We don’t believe this bill was the solution, but hope that it can be used to continue the momentum. As we all know, equality doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time, it takes brave individuals to stand up for what’s right regardless of what society says. Today is far from a loss and we can’t stop here.”
Ty Cobb, director of HRC Global described the decision to repeal marriage equality in Bermuda as “shameful”.
“This decision strips loving same-sex couples of the right to marry and jeopardises Bermuda’s international reputation and economy,” said Cobb. “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.”
Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory; it is internally self-governing but the UK is responsible for defence and foreign relations. There had been calls for the British government to intervene in the repeal of marriage equality, but that failed to materialise.
Greg and I are deeply saddened to hear that the DPA has been given assent to by the Governor. With that said, it did not come as a surprise. The Governor was placed between a rock and a hard place with this poorly planned and rushed 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 8 couples, and that's something that shouldn't be understated or forgotten. You are all loved and are worthy of love. Walton Brown has repeatedly said, "Bermuda isn't there yet," (with respect to same sex marriage). We don't believe this bill was the solution, but hope that it can be used to continue the momentum. As we all know, equality doesn't happen overnight, it takes time, it takes brave individuals to stand up for what's right regardless of what society says. Today is far from a loss and we can't stop here. Thank you to everyone that supported us and continues to support us. We wouldn't have been able to achieve what we have over the last year and a half. It truly is a testament as to what can be achieved by working together. "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that" – Martin Luther King Jr. Sincerely, Greg and Winston