Bermuda to end gay marriage, just months after legalizing it

Bermuda to end gay marriage, just months after legalizing it

Bermuda is a self-governing territory but still often looks to Britain, where same-sex marriage has
Bermuda is a self-governing territory but still often looks to Britain, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2014 AFP/YASUYOSHI CHIBA

WASHINGTON: Senators in socially conservative Bermuda on Wednesday (Dec 13) voted to restore a ban on gay marriage, overturning a right granted by its top court earlier this year.

The Senate approved the Domestic Partnership Act, which replaces the right to marriage with the ability to form same-sex partnerships, by a vote of 8-3.

The self-governing British territory's lower House of Assembly passed the same bill on Friday by a 24-10 margin. It will now be sent to the governor for his signature, widely seen as a formality.

Government Senate Leader Kathy Simmons said the bill reflected "the majority sentiment," according to The Royal Gazette, a local outlet.

"We have a bill that gives rights to the minority. It also protects the interests of the majority," she added.

The legislation marks an unusual turnabout after a Supreme Court justice ruled to allow gay marriage in May.

The new measure was engineered by the ruling Progressive Labor Party that came to power in July, and supported by many socially conservative churches.

Those couples who have married since May will not be stripped of their legal status, but some fear it could tarnish the reputation of the popular tourist destination.

"On a global scale, Bermuda has and continues to rely on its soft power -- our power to attract nations and people to our shores and our culture," Jeffrey Baron, Bermuda's shadow minister for national security, told AFP.

"How utterly shameful," he added.

Michael Dunkley, a former premier and current MP, added he was "disappointed" in the government's short-sightedness.

"Throughout history, if we hadn't stood for minorities the world wouldn't have progressed," he said, adding: "So many politicians legislate for the next vote, not for future generations."

REPUTATIONAL HARM?

Following the lower house's vote, the Bermuda Tourism Authority's CEO Kevin Dallas wrote an open letter to senators urging them to reconsider given the bill's potential harm.

"Passage of the 'Bathroom Bill' in North Carolina cost the state $3.76 billion in lost business," he wrote, adding that the state of Indiana similarly lost tourism revenue after its former governor Mike Pence signed a bill that allowed business owners to deny service to patrons based on sexual orientation.

"Our research indicates many companies, consumers and travelers, including the overwhelming majority of the younger visitors powering Bermuda's growth, care about this issue," he added.

Rights groups have also expressed outrage over the bill, with some blaming the churches.

Bermuda conducted a referendum on same-sex marriage in June 2016. A majority of those voting opposed both same-sex marriages and same-sex civil unions, but since fewer than half of eligible voters took part, the results were deemed invalid.

Then in May of this year, Judge Charles-Etta Simmons of the island's Supreme Court ruled in a case involving a local couple that "same-sex couples are entitled to be married" under Bermuda law.

Bermuda is a self-governing territory but still often looks to Britain, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2014.

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