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Bermuda governor mulls decision on same-sex marriage ban

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

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HAMILTON, Bermuda (CMC) — Governor John Rankin has declined to comment on a British newspaper article that the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, is under pressure to veto Bermuda's ban on same-sex marriage.

The Mail on Sunday said Rankin, a Scotsman, had taken “advice on requesting Mr Johnson's authorisation to veto the bill”.

The newspaper also said Rankin had to get approval from the Foreign Secretary before he could withhold consent on an act passed firstly by the House of Assembly and then approved by the Senate in this British Overseas Territory after being tabled by the ruling Progressive Labour Party, which has been in power for five months.

Government House declined to comment on the Mail story and referred to its statement last week that “in considering this matter, the Governor will continue to act in accordance with his responsibilities under the (Bermuda) constitution”.

Last Wednesday, Senators voted by an 8-3 to approve the Domestic Partnership Act after legislators in the House of Assembly had voted 24-10 in favour the previous Friday. But it needs the Governor's nod of approval before it becomes law.

The bill is designed to replace same-sex marriage with a watered-down legal relationship open to both gay and straight couples — just seven months after a Supreme Court judge gave gays the green light to wed in Bermuda. Half a dozen gay marriages are believed to have since taken place here. The Mail said Johnson's position was “fraught with difficulties” and that a veto would “spark uproar and accusations of neo-colonialism” in Bermuda.

It added that if the act is signed into law by Rankin, Bermuda would face a backlash from a boycott of its tourism industry.

A Foreign Office spokesman told the Mail: “the UK government is a proud supporter of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights and continues to support same-sex marriage. “While the UK government is disappointed with the implications of this bill, this is a matter for the Bermuda government acting within the terms of the Bermuda constitution and in accordance with international law.”

The British newspaper also quoted Chris Bryant, a former Labour government Overseas Territories Minister, who called on Johnson to let Rankin veto the act.

“A British citizen, regardless of what part of Britain they're from, should have the same rights. If approved, the law would make Bermuda the first country in the world to cancel gay marriage after previously allowing it.”

Political heavyweights in the United States, which provides the vast majority of Bermuda's tourists, have also hit out at the island's removal of gay marriage rights.

Howard Dean, a former presidential candidate, a former Governor of Vermont and one-time chairman of the Democratic Committee, said on his social media site on Friday: “Progressive Labour Party in Bermuda just eliminated gay marriage. Americans who really are progressives should find another vacation spot.”

Meanwhile, former attorney general here, Mark Pettingill, says he is to consider a constitutional challenge to the legislation designed to replace same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships. Pettingill told the Royal Gazette newspaper that a gay couple had approached him to weigh up the potential of taking the case to court on constitutional grounds.

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