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Civil unions inferior to civil marriage

Dear Sir,

Faced with a decision in the coming referendum on equal marriage, a friend in Bermuda asked me about the differences between a civil marriage and a civil union. As a former long-time resident and a married gay man who has been through both, she asked for my personal experiences and perspective. The differences are both practical and moral.

There will be a huge amount of existing legislation that needs to be changed for a civil union since it is a new legal entity: adoption of a partner’s existing children to protect their future; property and inheritance rights; pension rights for a surviving partner, particularly within private company pensions; healthcare rights - the list goes on. The practical problems with a civil union will depend on the skill of those who draft the new legislation. The Canadian Government in the original draft of its civil union laws forgot to include divorce, so this is not easy. The most straightforward approach is to just include same-sex couples within marriage and leave most of the other laws alone.

Even if the Bermuda legislation is perfect, be aware that civil unions are not always recognised in other countries. I live in Spain, where there is equal marriage and they have no concept of civil union. It proved to be very difficult to get the authorities to recognise a legal civil union rather than a civil marriage. This also applies in other European countries.

A Bermudian in a civil union with a foreign partner will have problems outside of Bermuda. The Bermudian partner of a US citizen will be denied social security benefits (pension), immigration rights and Medicare. The United States recognises only a full civil marriage. I was fortunate to be able to change my civil union to a full civil marriage to access all these benefits.

Civil unions are imperfect and are offered to placate those who cannot tolerate the idea of equal marriage. Every marriage needs to be celebrated, not just tolerated, be it between black and white, Christian and Muslim or between same-sex couples. Civil unions are inferior to civil marriage, and those who promote them know that and they work to keep that distinction. Even today, Bermuda struggles with privilege - white versus black, rich versus poor. I am baffled why anyone would wish to create a brand new inferior class of Bermudian and define this new category in law.


Co-founder of

The End-To-End Charitable Trust

Celebrate all marriage: civil unions are imperfect, says Paul Rowlerson