OBA to call referendum on same-sex marriage
The Bermuda Government has announced that it is to call a referendum on same-sex marriage and civil unions.
Michael Dunkley, the Premier, called a press conference this morning, accompanied by Patricia Gordon Pamplin, Minister for Community, Culture and Sports, to deliver news that a Referendum Bill will be tabled in the House of Assembly “this legislative session”.
It came moments after Ms Gordon-Pamplin tabled the Civil Union Bill 2016 for consultation in the House of Assembly. The minister also highlighted that the issue of same-sex marriage and civil unions is “at the forefront of our national conversation” because today the Supreme Court ruling regarding the Bermuda Bred Company case takes effect.
That landmark ruling means that non-Bermudian same-sex partners of Bermudians who are in permanent relationships are entitled to live and work in Bermuda free of immigration control.
Mr Dunkley told the media: “It is very important to mention that, prior to that Supreme Court writ, Government has sought to do its due diligence to review and to access the issue of same-sex unions by engaging in a very intensive consultation process.
“This included a series of public information sessions, the sharing of extensive research with the public on how other jurisdictions have sought to approach and reconcile this matter, outlining international legal responsibility, the proposed way the Bermuda Government could implement and manage civil unions, and meeting with advocacy groups and individuals for and against same-sex marriage in civil unions, all with the aim of listening to all sectors of the community on this very sensitive matter.
“That said, as directed by the Supreme Court ruling, the Government is required to recognise same-sex couples in a permanent relationship. This government believes in upholding fundamental and basic human rights.
“As such, Government has an obligation to bring the matter of same-sex unions to a resolution. In order to get the widest possible reach of views from the people it is the intention of the Government to table a Referendum Bill on the matter later in this legislative session.
“What has been made evidently clear through this entire process is that there are varied views on the issue of same-sex marriage and civil unions in Parliament and throughout our community. Recognising that this is a very complex and difficult issue for many in the community, we are committed to extending the consultative process so that the people of this country can express their opinions on same-sex marriage and civil unions via a referendum.
“This government is of the view that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, which is why we have tabled in the House the Matrimonial Causes Amendment Act 2016, which will strengthen that Act. I recognise that there is an incredible passion and emotion about same-sex unions.
“I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone for allowing us to do the considerable soul-searching and reflection regarding this issue.”
This afternoon the Human Rights Commission said it was “bitterly disappointed” by the Government’s decision.
“We specifically reject the notion that the opinion of the majority should impinge on the right of equal treatment for minorities,” the commission said in a statement.
“We are also disappointed that the decision to hold a referendum will serve to lengthen the timeline by which the Government can fulfill its obligations to its citizens who deserve equality under the law.
“The HRC hopes that the Government will commit to providing a comprehensive public education and awareness campaign that we can support, on the importance of legal recognition for same- sex couples, not just as a human right that is due on the principle of equality for all, but also the requirement to meet legal obligations, prior to the holding of a referendum on the subject.
“The fact that there has been adamant opposition to measures that would create equality for a minority, which has clearly, influenced the Government’s decision to hold a referendum, shows that there is public misconception and misunderstanding on the Government’s legal obligations and the concept that all people deserve to be treated equally under the law.”
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