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Gay marriage pioneer’s plea to Governor

The man whose court victory paved the way for same-sex marriage in Bermuda said it would be a “monumental symbol” if the Governor refused to give assent to an Act designed to replace same-sex marriage with watered-down domestic partnerships.

Winston Godwin said: “It sends a message that you not only believe in equality of all people but that you disagree with the stripping of rights.”

Mr Godwin was speaking after Senate members on Wednesday voted 8-3 in favour of the Domestic Partnership Act, which replaces same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships.

But John Rankin, the Governor, must still sign off on the Domestic Partnership Act before it becomes law.

Mr Godwin said he did not envy Mr Rankin's position.

He added that Mr Rankin had announced when he was appointed “that it was a job you very much wanted to do and looked forward to the challenges it inevitably presented”.

Mr Godwin said: “In such a position we should always do what is right, not necessarily what's easy.”

Bermudian Mr Godwin and husband Greg DeRoche, a Canadian, launched a legal battle after the Registrar-General refused their application to marry on the island.

They took their case to the Supreme Court and argued that the Human Rights Act took primacy in Bermuda.

Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons in May ruled in the couple's favour and legalised same-sex marriage.

The couple married that month in Toronto.

Mr Godwin said that while the Senate vote to back the Act did not come as a surprise, the margin of victory did.

He explained: “To have none of the independent senators vote against the Act adds salt to the wound.

“I say that because as an independent it's essentially a vote of conscience as opposed to along party lines.

“That margin would suggest that there is no real regard for what this Bill truly represents.”

Mr Godwin said the Act “effectively states that you are a second-class citizen because of who you love”.

He added: “This Act creates increased division within an already very divided country and within a minority all at once.”

Two local organisations yesterday added their criticism of the Senate decision.

The Human Rights Commission said: “Bermuda gained the shameful honour of being the first jurisdiction to allow marriage equality and then remove and replace it with legislation that is aimed clearly at being separate and unequal.

“The Human Rights Commission understood the reality that the Domestic Partnership Act 2017 had a high chance of passing and this is why, whilst we opposed the DPA, we still proposed amendments that we believed would be in the best interests for those affected by this discriminatory Act.”

The HRC said they remained committed to the fight against discrimination and that human rights must be protected.

The watchdog added: “We must stem the attacks and erosion of human rights that has been pervasive over the past two years of our tenure.”

The HRC warned: “The gradual and consistent carving back of rights will result in a weakened mechanism for protection against human rights abuses, when global and local trends indicate that we are entering a time in which we need those protections for those who are most vulnerable among us.”

The Rainbow Alliance of Bermuda said the reversal of marriage equality was a “gross miscarriage of justice”.

The gay rights group added that the Act was passed “to placate conservative religious lobbyists, who are wholly unaffected by the expression of love through marriage by same-gender, loving couples”.

It said: “A dangerous precedent has been set in creating exemptions from the protections of the Human Rights Act.

“Separate but equal domestic partnerships create an unfair hierarchical class system of unions.”

The Rainbow Alliance added that oppression had to be confronted in the interests of justice and equality.

The group said: “We hope that the Government will address issues that impact the entire Bermuda community with the same vigour that they pursued stripping away the rights of a minority group.

“We hope to still welcome LGBTQ visitors to our beautiful island, but understand that many will refuse to travel in a place where they are seen as second-class citizens.”

Mr Godwin said the attention the island had received “for all the wrong reasons” was “unfortunate”.

He explained: “When you have articles painting your country in a not-so-flattering light it's never good, especially when our economy is largely influenced by tourism.”

Mr Godwin said he had seen many people comment that they would no longer consider a visit to Bermuda after the law change.

He added: “The reputation we are garnering is absolutely concerning to say the least.”

Mr Godwin predicted it was only a matter of time before the majority of island politicians viewed “this inequality as problematic”.

He added: “They will hopefully see the current mindset is unjust and outdated and unfit for this day and age.

“I hope that those with that ideal will come forward and do what is right and not simply leave it as a matter of convenience or popularity.”

Mr Godwin said that he would continue to spread a message of love and self-worth to LGBTQ people in Bermuda.

He said: “It's very easy to become bitter or angry over the resulting vote, but in doing so we would be sinking to a level that is no better than those that supported this Bill.

“The fight is far from over, but it's important to realise how far we have come and take pride in that because in the end love always wins.”

Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche (Callie Nicole Photography)

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Published December 14, 2017 at 2:40 pm (Updated December 14, 2017 at 11:17 pm)

Gay marriage pioneer’s plea to Governor

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