Marriage of convenience has few celebrants
On occasion when planning a newspaper, editors face a quandary in making the decision over which of two viable candidates should be the lead story — or “the splash”. Such was the case on Friday in anticipation of the much awaited parliamentary debates to do with the Casino Gaming Amendment Act and the Domestic Partnership Act — both with laudable claims and both which command a huge public interest, casino gaming and same-sex marriage having captivated national attention pre and post-Election 17.
The decision fell on which in a worst-case scenario would have the more far-reaching effects for the country should there be adverse ramifications.
For what the implications might be should the Government’s plans to exert ministerial control over the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission turn pear-shaped, it meant that story had to take priority.
However, one debate took barely an hour and a half, while the other lasted for 4½ hours — and in doing so showed our elected officials at their collective worst.
It is no wonder that the One Bermuda Alliance, despite having drafted the initial Civil Unions Bill, and the Progressive Labour Party as the Opposition had their hands forced by Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons in May — left to their own devices in the Lower House, which in this instance is befitting of the name, they were woefully ill-equipped to appreciate the hardship felt by the LGBTQ community.
The discomfort seen on some faces was demonstrable, as though they wished they could be at any place where they were not required to talk in depth about this particular topic, trying to make sense of their support or lack thereof for the Bill brought by Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs.
The speakers veered from inspirational (Walter Roban), to combative (Patricia Gordon-Pamplin) and impassioned (Jeff Baron), to sermonical (Scott Simmons) to clueless (Neville Tyrrell) and downright offensive (Derrick Burgess).
Some didn’t speak, most notably the leader of the country and his predecessor, and that approach in hindsight should have been the preferred route by many to spare those in the public gallery and the listening public the agony of grown men and women stumbling over themselves, struggling to get words out in a coherent manner so as to make them remotely believable.
How does it go? “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
One by one they got up, armed with the privilege of having a half-hour to torment us, and torment us they did.
Gordon-Pamplin was strong and later showed pitbull tendencies in refusing to let go after a show of names ushered the Bill through. But by then she had already elicited something akin to an apocalyptic wish for the adult population of this generation. Pushed back by the Deputy Speaker, her “you will die” refrain to reflect that today’s older views will be improved on by the next generation was downgraded to “expire” before being withdrawn altogether.
Not the former Opposition leader at her finest.
Baron, in recalling Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, first needed a dressing-down from the Deputy Speaker for auditioning for the gallery before settling into his work.
We could have done without being brought up to speed on Lawrence Scott’s sexual conquests, such was the casual approach taken to some of this rather serious debate, while Leah Scott reminding that she is against same-sex marriage but is also against the stripping-away of rights presented one of the greatest contradictions of the night.
Then came Walter Roban, and for the first time you were left with the belief that if David Burt ever does get to go on that “New York trip that never happened” and is trapped in a parallel universe while being fitted for emperor’s clothing, we would have an able deputy to carry the day.
As far as quitting while you are ahead is concerned, all talking should have stopped once the impressively measured and articulate Roban concluded that evolution will lead to same-sex marriage being broadly accepted and legalised in Bermuda.
It is just that we are not there yet.
His was the only speech worthy of a standing ovation — some of what followed made you want to stand and rush for the exit.
Given the PLP’s decided advantage in the House, and with an element of this projected in its election platform, we knew this Bill was going to pass, come what may.
So why subject us to the additional speeches beyond the prescribed minimum?
And so they continued. And so we were forced to suffer as reasonably bright and electable individuals shrunk before our eyes — forced to speak on a subject they know little of and have inquired even less about.
No one was more uncomfortable than Neville Tyrrell. And it was a pity he had no colleague to his immediate left or right to rescue him from himself as he waffled on for what seemed an eternity without adequately making a clear point or offering a position on same-sex marriage.
The only truism to be taken from his 20 torturous minutes was the identifying of the Editor of The Royal Gazette in the audience and that we will report on the proceedings, which while accurate was as relevant to his address as Juanae Crockwell, sister of the late Shawn Crockwell, being sat not far away — nothing more than stalling tactics while trying to arrive at the right words.
They never came.
A good and principled man, this was not the Warwick South Central MP in his finest hour, and his party colleagues would be best advised not to leave him high and dry as a public speaker on this most complex of subjects.
Advanced in years but inexperienced in the House, Tyrrell was not the only respected parliamentarian who could do with a do-over.
Grant Gibbons, so often the most august and respected of speakers, allowed himself to get flustered with an untypical “whatever” when corrected over the LGBTQ acronym.
It was at that point for those of a same-sex marriage persuasion that you could not be faulted for thinking: “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”
But taking the biscuit, and claiming the “what was that about?” award was Michael Scott, he of the dulcet tones who for all of half an hour elucidated — to borrow a phrase from Trevor Moniz — how he would go against the Bill. But then when names were called, he fell into line with his party.
At least with Burgess, you know what you’re going to get: guns blazing and talk of racism and social inequity ... deflection. But the Hamilton East MP’s crude analogy of children walking in on their two fathers “getting busy” in the bedroom has no place in the House of Assembly — as though children walking in on mommy and daddy is any more appropriate.
Well versed in parliamentary procedure, Burgess is far better suited to the Speaker’s chair than he is to matters that warrant empathy married to humanitarianism. No pun intended.
So we have a Domestic Partnership Act whose genesis could be found in the Bermuda Bred case when Chief Justice Ian Kawaley advised the legislature that something needed to be done to provide amenable rights to same-sex couples.
The legislature did nothing, expensively in the case of the non-binding and ultimately invalid referendum, putting Justice Simmons in an invidious position when Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche challenged the Registrar-General to have their marriage banns posted.
Not including theirs, six marriages have taken place since that ruling, and the rub now for the LGBTQ community is that Brown’s Act removes those rights.
Enshrined into law, any immediate legal challenge is likely to fail, but Roban is right.
As the European Court of Human Rights comes under increasing pressure to acknowledge same-sex marriage and have provisions placed in the convention, so, too, will Bermuda get swept up in the revolution of evolution.
Unless the PLP wishes to test the waters of independence, where it will find that the country’s appetite for breaking away from Britain is even less than it is for embracing same-sex marriage, natural justice means that full marriage equality is on its way.
And quite contrary to the motivation behind Gordon-Pamplin’s “you will die” outburst, that justice will be all the sweeter if many of the foot-in-mouth types are alive to see it.