British MPs debate move to end gay marriage
A decision by Britain to overrule Bermuda's attempt to ditch same-sex marriage would be “an exceptional step”, the House of Commons heard last night.
Sir Alan Duncan, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, said the UK was “disappointed” by the island Parliament's decision to backtrack on marriage equality.
He added that a number of UK Overseas Territories had moved to introduce same-sex marriage, but that Britain had no plans to impose it on its overseas territories.
Sir Alan was speaking during a House of Commons adjournment debate on Bermuda's 2017 Domestic Partnership Act, which was passed last month. The legislation is designed to replace same-sex marriage with watered-down civil partnerships.
But Sir Alan, the first openly gay Conservative MP in the House of Commons, said the UK would consider the implications of the proposed Bermuda law “very carefully”. The debate was scheduled after opposition Labour MP Chris Bryant called on Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, to weigh in on the issue.
Mr Bryant said Bermuda's legislature had been in effect “begging the Foreign Secretary to allow it to cancel same-sex marriage”.
Last night, Mr Bryant appealed to David Burt, the Premier, and Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, to withdraw the legislation.
The former Overseas Territories Minister, who entered into a civil partnership in 2010, said: “Bermuda and the Premier of Bermuda — I hope you change your mind.
“I hope Bermuda changes its mind, and I hope the Government does not sign this Bill into law.”
Mr Bryant branded the Domestic Partnerships Act “a deeply unpleasant and cynical piece of legislation” that might appear “the same as civil partnerships in this country — but it is not”.
He added: “I have never seen a piece of legislation that so clearly declares, from the outset, that it is inconsistent with all the other laws in the land, including the Human Rights Act and the Constitution.”
He compared discrimination against gay people to the view “over two centuries or more” that slavery was part of the natural order.
Mr Bryant said that John Rankin, the Governor, was “entirely within his rights” to delay signing the Bill into law or to refuse Royal Assent.
He admitted that he had been told to “butt out” in some of the messages he had received,
But Mr Bryant said he disagreed because the legislation “impinges on how Britain is viewed around the world”.
He told the House of Commons that the Bill would also affect cruise ships registered on the island.
Mr Bryant said that cruise line Cunard, which had advertised gay weddings after a Bermuda Supreme Court decision last year paved the way for gay marriage, now feared it would lose the ability to perform the ceremonies.
Same-sex marriage is legal in England, Wales and Scotland but not in Northern Ireland, where the hardline Democratic Unionist Party blocked it, despite a majority in favour in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Mr Bryant said that “this Government, here in Westminster, needs to look hard at Northern Ireland, and implement equality”.
Sir Alan did not give any indication on what Mr Rankin would do about the Bill.
If Mr Rankin approves the domestic partnership law same-sex marriages will be outlawed, although those that have taken place so far would remain valid.
Mr Rankin has taken legal advice on the legislation and its constitutional implications and is still considering his decision.
Mr Bryant told UK MPs there had been eight same-sex marriages since the Supreme Court ruling and another four banns published.
Sir Alan did not signal UK support for the Domestic Partnership Act, but said it represented “progress in comparison to the situation just a year ago”.