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SSM fallout: cross to bear would always be Brown’s

It is not unreasonable to conclude that had Parliament not reconvened until February 9, 2019 rather than this morning, John Rankin would still be giving “careful consideration” to the Domestic Partnership Act 2017.

Since the Senate gave its approval by a conclusive 8-3 margin, with all three independents siding with the “ayes”, the issue of same-sex marriage in Bermuda has been the topic of debate from as far away as Britain.

There the House of Commons set aside a half-hour at adjournment time last week so that two openly gay men could debate whether Britain's oldest overseas territory needed to have its knuckles rapped by Big Brother.

Chris Bryant, a Labour MP living in a civil partnership, making the case to intervene; Sir Alan Duncan, a government minister living in a civil partnership, arguing that Britain leaves Bermuda to its own devices.

Some irony, that.

We may never know if Sir Alan, the Minister of State, or Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, had any influence on the Governor's decision or if, with a resigned shrug of the shoulders given the United Kingdom's inability to get Northern Ireland onside, they basically said: “We're screwed. Over to you, John.”

Having waited for the best part of two months for Royal Assent, the pithy, 22-word statement that came out of Government House told of a man who was backed into a corner, forced into signing off on something that goes against his sense of right and human dignity.

There are many others who feel that way in Bermuda after the roundabout way in which we have dealt with an issue that has such meaning to an albeit very small LGBTQ community but swelling support base.

The inability of both political parties to negotiate their way through uncomfortable waters means an Act that would have been seen nine months ago as a fantastic step forward, and setting the example for our Caribbean neighbours, is now viewed as backward.

Which is a shame and particularly hard on someone such as home affairs minister Walton Brown, who has devoted so much of his life to fighting for human rights to the extent of being seen as an outlier within his own party.

Brown's Act has elicited a sensational reaction, with many incensed Bermudians falling into line behind movements to boycott the island — the hashtag #BoycottBermuda making enough of an inglorious return in Twittersphere to give Kevin Dallas and the Bermuda Tourism Authority heart palpitations so soon after the announcement of a record visitor intake in 2017.

And in pincer-like movement, the international media have pounced, Royal Assent confirming that we have indeed become the first country to allow same-sex marriage — if not in parliamentary-approved legislation — and then repeal it. Albeit that domestic partnerships are everything but marriage in name — and we mean everything — any hindrance to progression can be argued as regression.

While it is too soon to know if the island will take an economic hit, how long Bermuda remains in the international news spotlight in alignment with same-sex marriage could be a factor.

With David Burt, the Premier, set to deliver his first Budget Statement as finance minister a week today, when he is expected to plot a path towards continued economic revival, the timing could hardly be worse.

Operating at glacial pace where it pertains to social change is part of the “Bermudian culture”. This culture, which includes the infamous double-negative that is treated like the Queen's English and which remains on a homicidal pace on our roads despite the horrendous results revealed by A Piece of the Rock, is resistant to criticism of any form — constructive or otherwise — if it is coming from the wrong side of the fence.

So seeing gays as people, too, in every sense, will take time.

At the crux of this country coming to terms with the need to treat its brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community as brothers and sisters is education.

And if in 2018 we still cannot appreciate the illiteracy of “I ain't going nowhere”, brazenly passing it down to our children, generation after generation, the chances of a truly collective epiphany attended dually by empathy and grace are remote. Without wanting to reprise the worst of Patricia Gordon-Pamplin's “You Will Die” speech, we will get there.

We are just waiting for the right generation to come for that penny to finally drop.

It was only in 2013 that sexual orientation was added to the Human Rights Act. And it was only 19 years earlier that the Stubbs Bill led to the removal of buggery from our books as a crime.

Poor Walton Brown. A year ago, this assent could have led to him being draped in the rainbow colours and paraded around the City of Hamilton.

Now, for those who might have anointed, it is a crown of thorns and a cross the weight of the world on his back that are better suited.

Alas, Easter and the Resurrection are just around the corner.

As the world turns: Walton Brown, once seen by the gay community as a champion for human rights, has assumed pariah status after his successful tabling and passing of the Domestic Partnership Act into law (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published February 09, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated February 09, 2018 at 8:11 am)

SSM fallout: cross to bear would always be Brown’s

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