Pride march underpins growing acceptance
”It’s just retrograde. I was very disappointed, disheartened. I think it was a step back for human rights. I believe singularly that it must make us unique in the entire world: to have come to a place where we had marriage equality and then we take it away”
— Kim Wilkerson, the Progressive Labour Party senator who helped to defeat her party’s attempt to ban same-sex marriage in 2016, criticises its attempt to replace same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships a year later
The campaign for equality over sexual orientation made great strides in the past decade as Bermuda celebrated its first gay marriage and a Pride parade attracted thousands of marchers.
However, the low numbers prepared to vote in favour of same-sex marriage at a referendum in 2016 — and a persistent lack of support from parliamentarians — suggested the movement still has a long way to go.
At the start of the decade, little progress had been made since 2006, when politicians infamously refused to take part in a debate as former Progressive Labour Party Renée Webb tried unsuccessfully to have sexual orientation protected by the Human Rights Act.
The One Bermuda Alliance government eventually passed legislation in 2013 prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, but community development minister Wayne Scott emphasised it would not pave the way for same-sex marriage, so political support remained cold.
But the matter was finally taken out of the hands of the politicians in May 2017 when Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons ruled in favour of Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche, who argued their rights were breached by the Registrar’s refusal to post their marriage banns.
That ruling opened the door for same-sex couples to marry in Bermuda, with Julia Saltus and Judith Aido becoming the first to marry on the island by the end of that month. Mr Godwin and Mr DeRoche ultimately were married in Toronto.
The Government reacted by passing the Domestic Partnership Act, which made Bermuda the first country in the world to allow same-sex weddings and then ban them, by replacing same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships.
Bermudian Rod Ferguson then successfully launched a legal action against the DPA, in particular the clause that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
However, the Government has refused to give up and has been given permission to fight Chief Justice Ian Kawaley’s decision in the Privy Council in London, the island’s highest court of appeal.
A referendum on same-sex marriage and civil unions in June 2016, called by Michael Dunkley, then the Premier, sparked a bitter campaign between the Rainbow Alliance and Preserve Marriage, which collected thousands of names on a petition against same-sex marriage.
Only 20,804 people, or 46.89 per cent of the electorate, took part, meaning that the referendum was officially deemed to be unanswered because the response did not reach the 50 per cent mandate set by the Parliamentary Registry Office.
Of those who did vote, 69 per cent were against same-sex marriage, and 63 per cent were against civil unions.
In 2019, campaigners made a dramatic move by organising Bermuda’s first Pride march to try to reinforce that gay people are part of island society.
They declared it an overwhelming success, as more than 5,000 people took to the streets in a procession through Hamilton in August, wearing rainbow costumes and waving flags, banners and slogans to promote equality.
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