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Preserve Marriage charity decision reversed

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Preserve Marriage has become a charity again after home affairs minister Walton Brown overturned a decision to refuse it charitable status.

The group, which opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions, first gained charitable status in 2016 but had been unsuccessful when applying again this year.

The Charity Commissioners, according to minutes of meetings obtained by The Royal Gazette under public access to information, decided not to renew the group's charitable status, partially on the grounds that its purposes were “unlawful” in light of a court decision allowing gay people to wed here.

Other reasons given were that its purposes caused “more detriment than benefit” by appearing to “single out and victimise” people based on their sexual orientation, and were purely political.

Preserve Marriage appealed to the Minister of Home Affairs and Mr Brown found in its favour this week.

He told the organisation in a letter: “In reviewing the initial application for registration as a charity, which was successful in 2016, in comparison to your 2017 re-registration application, I see no differences with regard to your charitable purposes or primary objectives.

“You have provided enough information to allay all of the concerns which the commissioners used to make the determination to deny the re-registration.

“It can be agreed that with the recent change in law declaring same-sex marriage as legal on May 5, 2017, advocating for marriage to be defined as a union between a man and a woman has not been declared unlawful.

“That change in law is the only change that has occurred with respect to your initial successful application and your re-registration application. I am satisfied with your additional submissions and hereby overturn the Charity Commissioners' decision, therefore the organisation is now granted re-registration of charitable status.”

The decision means Preserve Marriage can begin soliciting donations from the public again to further its stated aim of having marriage in Bermuda “defined and upheld as a special union ordained by God between a man and a woman”.

Since the May 5 Supreme Court ruling, gay marriage has been legal on the island and several same-sex couples are reported to have tied the knot. But government MP Wayne Furbert plans to reintroduce a private member's Bill in Parliament next month to restrict it again to opposite-sex couples.

This newspaper can reveal that Preserve Marriage's application to renew its charitable status earlier this year prompted 20 letters of objection from members of the public, as well as 12 letters in support.

The letters were sent to the Charity Commissioners as they deliberated over the application and have now been released under Pati, with the identities of the senders redacted.

One objector wrote: “I am a married Bermudian and father. I object to Preserve Marriage being granted charitable status. The objectives of Preserve Marriage are political, discriminatory and harmful to our society and harmful to our tourism industry.”

Another said: “I sincerely hope that the Charities Commission denies the continuation of charitable status for the Preserve Marriage group. This group does not meet the Commission's objectives to educate the public, increase the public trust in charities, nor does it have a public benefit.

“What it does is the complete opposite: it promotes fearmongering and hate. The religious dogma of one group should not be forced on the entire community.”

A Preserve Marriage supporter wrote: “I fully support their beliefs and ideals that marriage should remain between a man and a woman and they have been a public benefit and instrumental as our collective 'voice' for the many thousands of Bermudians who feel this way.”

Another said: “I am, and always will be, against gay marriage and will support any group that opposes bringing that here to Bermuda. If these people have to get married, they can go elsewhere to do it, not here. The people have spoken loud and clear that we do not want it here, simple as that.”

A press release from the Ministry of Home Affairs said Preserve Marriage was denied charitable status on May 23 and submitted an appeal on June 12.

“As is the normal process, the appeal is first reviewed by the technical officers who assess whether the appeal meets the requirements of the legislation and then makes a recommendation to the Minister. The Minister ultimately accepted the recommendation of the technical review of the appeal.”

It was not possible to reach anyone from Preserve Marriage for comment yesterday.

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Published August 29, 2017 at 3:59 pm (Updated August 30, 2017 at 1:07 pm)

Preserve Marriage charity decision reversed

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