British parliament to debate Bermuda's ban on same-sex marriage

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British parliament to debate Bermuda's ban on same-sex marriage

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

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HAMILTON, Bermuda (CMC) — Bermuda's controversial move to ban same-sex marriage is to be debated by British politicians next week as this British Overseas Territory waits for a final decision by Governor John Rankin.

Labour MP Chris Bryant has asked for an adjournment debate on the subject, which will take place at the end of Monday's session in the House of Commons in London, the Royal Gazette newspaper here reported.

The new David Burt government is awaiting a decision by Rankin on the Domestic Partnership Act 2017 that was designed to replace same-sex marriage with civil unions. The legislation was passed in Parliament last month, but Rankin is yet to give it royal assent and sign it into law.

Lawyer and former attorney general Mark Pettingill, who was a member of the previous One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) administration until he resigned from the party, said that, from a constitutional perspective, it was “appropriate” and “proper” for the UK debate to take place.

He told the newspaper that he hoped it would lead to a “consensus in the British parliament that surely has to carry some weight”.

But political commentator Charles Jeffers said Britain should stay out of the internal affairs of a self-governing territory, even if it remained under UK sovereignty.

Jeffers said he doubted if the debate was “going to go anywhere.

“To me, it's the fact that they have the audacity to discuss it, to even bring it up. It's nothing but irritating,” he added.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Bermuda since the Supreme Court ruled in May last year that it was discriminatory to deny gay couples the right to wed.

The judgment was the result of a lawsuit brought by a gay couple, Winston Godwin, a Bermudian, and his Canadian partner Greg DeRoche, against the Registrar-General's decision to refuse to post their wedding banns.

The pair eventually wed in Canada but at least half a dozen gay couples have been married on the island.

Until the Governor makes a ruling on the bill, gay couples can continue to get married here as well as at sea on Bermuda-registered cruise ships.

The now ruling Progressive Labour Party (PLP) underlined in its general election manifesto its opposition to gay marriage, but pledged to introduce legislation to give same-sex couples “similar legal benefits as heterosexual couples”.

Minister of Home Affairs Walton Brown tabled the Domestic Partnership Bill after the party's election win last summer and it was approved by both the House of Assembly and the Senate in December.

The move sparked international headlines and overseas media reported that Bermuda would become the first country in the world to reverse marriage equality.

A Government House spokesman confirmed on Tuesday that the bill was still under consideration by Rankin, while Brown declined to comment.

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