House: same-sex referendum likely in June
The referendum on same-sex partnerships in Bermuda will likely take place in mid-to-late June, Michael Dunkley has revealed.
Speaking at the House of Assembly last night, the Premier acknowledged that the topic remained “a highly emotive issue” which divided opinions among politicians and the public.
Calling the upcoming referendum “a form of direct democracy”, he revealed that approximately 12 polling stations will be set up island-wide for the vote, each equipped to accommodate 3,600 people.
Voters will be asked two questions: “1) Are you in favour of same-sex marriage in Bermuda? and 2) Are you in favour of same-sex civil unions in Bermuda?”
“The people of Bermuda are divided on the issue of same-sex relationships,” Mr Dunkley said.
“Before taking any further action, the Government requires some clarity. Holding a referendum on the issue will provide a clear understanding of the will of the people.”
Opposition leader Marc Bean stated that the Progressive Labour Party supported the referendum, and that members would be allowed to express their opinions on the topic freely and without ramifications.
“We think that this is the best approach to really test the views of the populace,” he said.
“Ultimately, this bill is going to submit the question to the people themselves, and we will have to govern accordingly.”
PLP MP Walton Brown called it “ironic” that the Government was happy to consult the public on same-sex marriage but not on immigration reform.
Earlier that day, hundreds of protesters gathered at the House of Assembly once more to voice their disapproval of the One Bermuda Alliance’s unilateral approach to new immigration legislation.
Mr Brown added: “If you juxtapose the Government’s handling of this issue to another equally emotive, important and divisive issue, we see two completely different pathways to addressing these respective matters.”
Later in the evening, Mr Dunkley defended the OBA’s difference in stance.
“We all agree there has to be comprehensive immigration reform. That is not an easy question to put in a referendum,” he said.
“This issue here is very simple for us to put forward, and that is why we are taking this approach.”
Mr Brown also criticised the impending referendum for not offering a binding outcome, calling it “a very expensive public opinion poll”.
“What is the point of doing a referendum if it doesn’t bind the Government to the results? It’s a waste of money,” he said. Reiterating his support for a legal framework for same-sex couples in Bermuda, Mr Brown accused the Government of taking a pussyfooted approach to the issue.
He added that, by holding a referendum, the OBA was “caving in to a reactionary element in this country who don’t want us to live in the 21st century”.
OBA MP Mark Pettingill also spoke of his staunch belief that same-sex couples should share the same rights as everyone else, and implored the public to vote in favour of change.
“I’m going to keep banging the drum that it is a human rights issue,” he said.
“If it was a 99 per cent outcome against (in the referendum), it wouldn’t move me.
“I know where I stand, and where my conscience stands, on this.
“You think I’m going to teach my children something different? I’m not.
“Study a little history and see how much bigotry, hatred, wars, violence and misery there have been because one group of people said, ‘We’re not going to allow that group of people to have the same rights that we have. They’re a different category of human being’.”
Meanwhile, Shadow Minister of Health Michael Weeks said the referendum’s core question should be reframed, simply to ask whether marriage should always be between a man and a woman.
He added: “Because if we just use same-sex marriage and unions, three or four years down the road we’re going to be back here talking about all kinds of things, maybe bestiality.”
However, community minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin shot down the suggestion that same-sex rights would lead to bestiality, stating that there is a great difference between a consensual relationship between adults and relations that cannot be consensual.
Bob Richards, the Minister of Finance, said that he believed marriage is intrinsically between a man and a woman, comparing the human rights argument to a donkey telling an eagle he wants “equality of flight”.
But he added his support to the referendum, saying that all sides should be able to have their voice heard.
“All we should do as parliamentarians is encourage people to vote on this,” he said.
“What the Supreme Court does about it is up to them.”