Some times unexpected things happen prophetically. Bermuda has become the first country to legalize and then repeal same-sex marriage. They have swapped same-sex marriage law for a domestic partnerships law for LGBT couples. Needless to say the move was criticized as an unprecedented rollback on civil rights. The British territory’s governor said the new law reflected opposition to same-sex marriage among voters.
Bermuda’s governor signed the bill into law despite a Supreme Court ruling last year authorizing same-sex marriage. Walton Brown, Bermuda’s minister of home affairs, said the legislation signed by Governor John Rankin would balance opposition to same-sex marriage on the socially conservative island while complying with European court rulings that ensure recognition and protection for same-sex couples in the territory.
Bermuda’s Senate and House of Assembly passed the legislation by wide margins in December and a majority of voters opposed same-sex marriage in a referendum.
“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,” said Brown, whose ruling Progressive Labour party proposed the repeal.
LGBT civil rights groups said domestic partnerships amounted to a second-class status and it was unprecedented for a jurisdiction to take away the legal right to marriage after it had been granted.
About half a dozen same-sex marriages that took place in Bermuda between the Supreme Court ruling in May 2017 and the repeal will continue to be recognised under the new law.
But same-sex couples will now have the option only of a registered domestic partnership. Brown said those couples would have “equivalent” rights to married heterosexual couples, including the right to make medical decisions on behalf of one’s partner.
Human rights groups had lobbied Rankin and the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, to deviate from standard practice in self-governing UK territories and withhold assent for the change. They argued, as usual, that the new legislation contradicted Bermuda’s constitution, which guarantees freedom from discrimination.
In a debate in the UK’s House of Commons last month, the Labour MP Chris Bryant called the bill a “deeply unpleasant and very cynical piece of legislation.” After the repeal was confirmed, Bryant tweeted that it would “undermine [the] UK effort to advance LGBT rights.”
The Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality in May, 2017 was celebrated by Bermuda’s small gay community, but it also outraged many on the socially conservative island, including church leaders, and thousands protested outside parliament.
Mark Pettingill, a Bermudian lawyer who won the May 2017 marriage equality case in the Supreme Court, had previously said he might challenge the governor’s decision through a constitutional action. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
Repealing the same-sex marriage law is a temporary measure in order to address the political realities in Bermuda. Gay activists will continue their efforts to press for same-sex marriage. This setback will not stop them. Yet God knows how to prevent gay marriage fanaticism from going too far.
“But the men put forth their hand, and pulled Lot into the house to them, and shut to the door. And they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door.” Genesis 19:10, 11.