Burt: People do not want same-sex marriage
Same-sex marriage is not “culturally acceptable” and will not happen in Bermuda because the people do not want it, says the acting Opposition leader.
The same applies to civil unions, David Burt told The Royal Gazette, revealing that he is opposed to both and that he does not see a need for the island to make any changes to the law to recognise long-term same-sex relationships.
Mr Burt’s comments were made during an interview with this newspaper last week, before he voted in favour of an amendment to the Human Rights Act in Parliament on Friday to prevent same-sex couples from getting married here. The Bill passed by 20 votes to ten.
Insisting that he does not condone any form of discrimination, Mr Burt said he is not convinced the issue was about human rights.
“Some people call it a human rights issue, other people call it a family issue, other people call it what they will,” he said.
“We have to recognise that all persons should have rights. When we are talking about rights of family life, that’s one thing, but family life in the context of which some people describe it is different to the context in which other people describe it.
“And the cultural norms that we have in our country are that family life should apply to opposite-sex couples, as opposed to same-sex couples.”
In the referendum on same-sex relationships last month, 68 per cent of those who voted were against same-sex marriage — representing 32 per cent of the electorate or 14,192 people — and 63 per cent were against civil unions — 29 per cent of the electorate or 13,003 people.
“The public have spoken on this issue,” Mr Burt said. “They have spoken on the issue of same-sex marriage and the public of Bermuda believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and that’s where the view of the majority of the populace stands.”
On civil unions, he added: “The people of this country do not want it, so I don’t believe it’s going to happen.”
He appeared sceptical when told that gay couples — even if legally married elsewhere — do not have property inheritance or next-of-kin rights on the island.
“Are they being prevented from doing such?” he asked. “You are saying that a gay couple can’t visit each other at the hospital?”
Told that gay Bermudians could not leave property to non-Bermudian same-sex spouses and same-sex couples were not guaranteed medical visitation rights, Mr Burt continued: “I understand and I hate to go down the same road again, but the fact is our society and our laws have declared that marriage is between a man and a woman and the majority of the electorate support that position remaining the way it is.”
Mr Burt said that he did not disclose his personal views before the referendum because it was a matter of conscience. But he is resolute in his opposition to a change in the law, even though he differs from many same-sex marriage opponents in not considering homosexuality to be a “lifestyle choice”. He said: “I’m not in favour of same-sex marriage,” the married father of two said. “It’s not something that is culturally acceptable. It’s not the beliefs of which I have; that I have been grown up with.”
He said he came from a family with a “strong Christian tradition”, but did not see his position as being necessarily a religious one. “People can talk about religion, but I can also say it’s a part of culture,” he said. “I don’t think that culturally, as a country, it’s something that we are willing to accept. It’s something that is culturally foreign to us. What we as a country have to recognise and respect are the views of the people.”
The PLP spoke to “legal scholars” before the referendum, Mr Burt said, and was told Bermuda may not have a legal obligation to introduce same-sex marriage or civil unions, as the Government has suggested.
“The question of whether or not something has to be done is not something that the legal persons will agree with,” he said.
He described the way the referendum came about as “misguided”, but said it served as a useful gauge of public opinion. And he pointed out that the Referendum Act 2012 was introduced by the PLP, although he did not recall Paula Cox, as Premier, saying in Parliament that referendums should not be held on issues that “speak to fundamental rights because fundamental rights have to be within the remit of the Government”.
Mr Burt said: “I’m not going to be drawn into whether or not it’s OK to do a referendum on a human rights issue. I do not believe that, at any point in time in a democracy, it is a bad thing to ask people of their opinion, especially on issues that are fraught with many different challenges.”