‘Business leader’ linked to Preserve Marriage

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  • Preserve Marriage supporters (File photograph)

    Preserve Marriage supporters (File photograph)

Preserve Marriage’s reinstatement as a charity has reignited questions over its funding, but Bermuda’s laws do not require the information to be disclosed.

The group, which is against same-sex marriage and civil unions, has never revealed its financial backers and its lawyer told a court hearing this year that some “expressly” did not want their names “exposed”.

Bermudian journalist Clare O’Connor, who works for Forbes, raised the question last week in a Facebook comment.

She claimed that an unnamed “prominent Bermuda-based business leader” was “funding the Preserve Marriage bigots” and said “his shareholders have a right to know”.

And one objector to the organisation’s application to have its charitable status renewed this year asked the island’s Charity Commissioners to examine financial support for the group.

The objector, whose identity was withheld under public access to information rules, wrote: “They are bringing hatefulness into Bermuda and bad publicity. Where are they getting money from to support them? Was this ever investigated?”

Preserve Marriage — like other charities — is not obliged to reveal the sources of its funding.

It an offence for charities to fail to disclose funds received from public, government or private sources under the 2014 Charities Act, but the legislation does not require those sources to be identified.

It is understood that the Charity Commissioners, when considering applications, do not usually request such information unless there is cause for concern.

Preserve Marriage successfully applied for charitable status in April last year.

But its application to have the status renewed was denied in May by the Charity Commissioners in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling which made gay marriage legal.

The commissioners gave three reasons for the refusal, which were that the group’s purposes:

• Were “unlawful” in light of the court decision allowing gay people to wed here

• Caused “more detriment than benefit” by appearing to “single out and victimise” people based on their sexual orientation

• Were purely political.

The organisation appealed against the decision and home affairs minister Walton Brown upheld the appeal this week.

In a letter to Preserve Marriage, the minister said advocating for marriage to be defined as a union between a man and a woman had not been declared unlawful and he saw no difference between the charitable purposes or primary objectives set out in the group’s original status application and its renewal application.

Preserve Marriage filed a financial statement of its accounts and an annual report with the Registrar-General earlier this year, in accordance with the Charities Act.

But the documents, seen by The Royal Gazette, provide no clue as to who is funding the charity. According to its statement of accounts, Preserve Marriage’s net assets at the end of 2016 were $1,020.

Donations totalled $165,054 last year and the group spent $155,330 on community education and $8,704 on supporting activities.

Preserve Marriage said some of its donors had given more than $5,000 — though it had not received any “unusual or substantial one-off donations” — and that it had a well-established relationship with its donors.

Several of Preserve Marriage’s leading members are church figures, such as deputy chairman Gary Simons, a pastor with Cornerstone Bible Fellowship, and treasurer Mark Hall, from Word of Life Fellowship.

Some funding has come from churches and that is likely to include donations from Cornerstone, which suggests its parishioners pay a tithe — one-tenth of their income — to the church.

Preserve Marriage was involved in the Supreme Court case earlier this year which led to the landmark ruling allowing gay people to marry.

The successful plaintiffs, gay couple Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche, sought legal costs against the group and its third-party funders.

But Preserve Marriage’s lawyer Delroy Duncan told the court: “You have a limited liability company which was a charity that people gave to, some under a cloak of confidentiality, some expressly saying ‘we do not want our names exposed’.

“Some of those funders include churches and members of the community.”

And Mr Duncan described the funders as “a lot of people throughout this community”.

Mr Godwin and Mr DeRoche are no longer seeking costs from the third-party funders.

The judgment in favour of gay marriage is under appeal by both Preserve Marriage and a separate group which is supportive of its aims.

The separate group is led by former MP Maxwell Burgess and the notice of appeal filed with the court by him included a list of “second appellants” which featured the signatures of more than 8,000 Preserve Marriage supporters.

Those who signed consented to their names being included as appellants and they could be held liable for legal costs if the appeal fails.

No one from Preserve Marriage could be contacted for comment.

On occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on what we consider to be a controversial or contentious story. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

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