Marriage equality: June 23 referendum likely
The referendum on marriage equality could take place in less than ten weeks but all is so far quiet on the campaign front.
The two-question ballot — which will ask whether voters are in favour of same-sex marriage and whether they are in favour of same-sex civil unions — is likely to take place on Thursday, June 23, The Royal Gazette understands, though nothing has been set in stone.
The date happens to coincide with the United Kingdom’s referendum on the European Union and the official referendum period there begins today, meaning the lead campaigners must follow strict rules on spending.
In Bermuda, no official campaigns have been launched, though some in support of marriage equality have begun releasing material on social media suggesting they’ll urge voters to answer “yes” to both questions.
Same-sex marriage opponents Preserve Marriage, meanwhile, told this newspaper yesterday that members would meet next week to discuss their campaign, which will likely encourage voters to say “no” to both. The government announced in February it would hold a referendum on the issue this summer and tabled an amendment to the Matrimonial Causes Act in Parliament, which would allow discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in relation to weddings. It also released draft legislation for same-sex civil unions for consultation only.
Preserve Marriage had pushed for a referendum and two MPs — the One Bermuda Alliance’s Sylvan Richards and the Progressive Labour Party’s Michael Weeks — pledged to table private member’s bills to ensure such a ballot took place.
But the decision was criticised by the Human Rights Commission, which said it rejected the “notion that the opinion of the majority should impinge on the right of equal treatment for minorities”.
Asked to confirm the date of the referendum, Acting Premier Patricia Gordon-Pamplin said the public would be “formally advised” when it was set.
She noted the Premier had 90 days from March 28 — the day the Referendum (Same Sex Relationships) Act was enacted — to publish a referendum notice and the ballot had then to be held no sooner than 30 days and no later than 60 days after the notice was published.
“The government certainly appreciates that the matter of same-sex relationships is a highly sensitive issue,” said Ms Gordon-Pamplin. “The public will recall that government committed to hearing all sides of the issue related to same-sex marriage and civil unions. To that end, extensive research has been undertaken to fully understand how other jurisdictions have addressed same-sex relationships and the findings have been shared with the general public.”
She said the government put two questions on the ballot paper to “allow for a full and broad appreciation as to whether same-sex marriage is supported by the community.
“It also allows government to have an appreciation as to whether civil union is supported by the community. So essentially, it’s government’s view that to have asked one question and not the other would not have allowed for a broader evaluation of the appreciation of the populace for either of the issues”.
Lawyer Adrian Hartnett-Beasley, who got married to his partner Shane last year in New York, said having two questions could confuse voters but he would encourage his family, friends, colleagues and fellow churchgoers, to answer yes to both.
Mr Hartnett-Beasley is involved in a new LGBTQ charity, OUTBermuda, but was speaking in a personal capacity.
“The government has publicly stated that they have a legal obligation to provide some recognition for same-sex unions in Bermuda,” he said. “For the security and safety and legal protection of my family, I would vote in favour of civil unions, even though I’m in favour of full marriage equality because, quite frankly, something is better than nothing.”
Preserve Marriage chairman Melvyn Bassett said it was “likely” his charity would opt for a “no no” campaign. “Our research clearly indicates that in the 20 countries that have embraced civil unions, within six to eight years . . . in every case it has led to same-sex marriage.”
Dr Bassett agreed the government would have to take action to recognise same-sex unions because of what Ms Gordon-Pamplin has termed “significant” court rulings, here and overseas.
“I think they will have to, based on human rights,” he said, adding that didn’t mean civil unions were inevitable. “I think government thinks there are other ways to address the issues raised by the LGBT community. It doesn’t have to be civil unions. It doesn’t have to be same-sex marriage.”
Activist Tony Brannon posted an image on Facebook this week showing a rainbow across a Bermuda seascape, with the words “Follow the road to marriage equality” and “Yes Yes Love Must Win”.
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