Change gonna come – it’s on our MPs to own it
“Everyone falls in love sometime
Sometimes it’s wrong, and sometimes it’s right
For every win, someone must fail
But there comes a point when
When we exhale ...
If you were a fella at the end of the ultimate chick flick and discovered when the lights came on that you were in a minority in the company of the fairer sex, it is arguable whether the overriding emotion would have been to exhale yourself ... or to run.
When independent senator James Jardine declared his hand over the matter of the Human Rights Amendment Act, Michael Dunkley was given the chance to exhale and to recover the lost ground and waning confidence in his leadership of the country.
The Premier, after he has tended to the equally important business of the Brexit fallout in a pre-Joint Ministerial Council get-together with his British Overseas Territories counterparts in Turks and Caicos, has to rally his colleagues in the One Bermuda Alliance to find a consensus on civil unions for same-sex couples.
Now that Wayne Furbert has been convinced — some might say educated — that his Private Members Bill will have to wait 12 months before returning the House of Parliament, there is scope for Dunkley to unite parliamentarians on a compromise that does not impinge on the human rights of a good many Bermudians and partners of Bermudians.
Following on the heels of unconvincing debate in the Lower House, the largely impassioned discourse on Thursday in the Senate was most encouraging. For not only were the seniors shown up by the juniors in crystallising the folly of writing discrimination into the Human Rights Act, but they also brought home the human element to the extent that there is now hope for Furbert, even, to get on board for a form of equality for the island’s gays.
So from a position of isolation to one now where he can lead the way forward, the Premier has government senators Michael Fahy, Jeff Baron, Lynne Woolridge and Georgia Marshall, the Opposition’s Kim Wilkerson and the aforementioned Jardine to thank for giving him yet another chance on an issue that appears to have a longer shelf life than the alkaline battery.
He no longer has those sensible souls to call on when the House returns to the table to discuss same-sex marriage, as it will inevitably have to, given that Mark Pettingill is pressing ahead through the courts.
Chief Justice Ian Kawaley, in the wake of the Bermuda Bred case, has already told the Bermuda Government to not return without putting into place a legal framework that provides rights to same-sex couples. In not so many words, the Senate, albeit by the slenderest of margins, has done essentially the same thing.
Now, though, there seems more parliamentary stomach for a “No, Yes” scenario. We already knew Dunkley favours civil unions, but the others — those from the Progressive Labour Party, in particular — had kept their powder dry until called out in the wake of that 20-10 vote.
There are many issues to be dealt with in Bermuda and the Premier has a fair deal on his plate — ‘twas ever thus — but this one cannot be now pushed into the back corner to gather dust, as has happened apparently with the proposal to have dark-tinted and mirror visors from the helmets of an already irresponsible motorcycling public.
When he gets around to it, Dunkley will find a fair few more in his corner than originally expected. With considered consultation with the churches and public, civil unions can and should work on this island.
Pettingill’s decision to stay with the OBA come what may suggests he could be talked into accepting civil unions as the lesser of “two evils”. And where he goes, the other six OBA MPs who voted against Furbert’s Bill will likely follow, as would the newly independent Shawn Crockwell — in addition, the PLP’s Walton Brown and Michael Scott are firmly in tow.
But it is on the other side of the argument that there needs to be significant traction gained, with a Woolridge-esque statesmanship required. Bob Richards, the Deputy Premier, is alone among OBA MPs who sided with Furbert to have since pledged support for civil unions. Perhaps a few one-on-ones with the party chairwoman could bring enough of Jeanne Atherden, Kenneth Bascome, Craig Cannonier, Leah Scott, Wayne Scott and Cole Simons into a civil state of mind that legislation could be drafted to consensus satisfaction so that Furbert can withdraw his Bill long before the 12-month waiting period expires — and long before the Chief Justice forces our hands.
Preserve Marriage, and those who support the beliefs of that group, is concerned greatly that marriage will follow civil unions should the latter be written into law. Indeed, that has been the case in a number of jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is legal, but that need not be the case here.
The European Court of Human Rights asks only that same-sex couples are treated equitably within the law; it does not, however, mandate the right to marry is a human right.
Finland, which will make same-sex marriage legal in March next year, is perhaps the best example in Europe for Bermuda to model itself on.
The Finns have allowed civil unions since 2002 but resisted “The Full Monty” until only just now, after a succession of public opinion polls showed mounting support.
If the Bermuda public remain as against civil unions, let alone same-sex marriage, as they are at present, they would be some ways away — if ever.
And please let us dispense with the twaddle that the June 23 referendum was unanswered. Had the numbers been reversed, with the referendum 1,200 or so votes shy of making the final count official, we very well know the “Yes, Yes” sense of accomplishment would be every much as heightened as that of the “No, No” brigade.
But we digress. This is a “No, Yes” party. The other two had their chance, and along the way have called one another every name in the book, while threatening the country’s social welfare on one hand and orchestrating attempts further to damage us economically on the other.
So few come out of this smelling of roses. The endgame after the intervention of the Senate is to take it back and change it.
How soon, particularly for Dunkley now that the Human Rights Commission summarily has extricated him from the fence in its vilification of the Furbert Bill, is absolutely critical.