Gay couples should not have to settle for domestic partnerships
After a May 2017 hearing that found prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying was discriminatory and unconstitutional, the Chief Justice of Bermuda’s Supreme Court ruled that same sex-marriages in Bermuda should be legal.
In November 2018, the Government failed to reverse this decision with the Court of Appeal.
On February 3, 2021, the Government’s legal team will appeal, this time to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. It is alarming that we are going to Britain to resolve Bermuda’s domestic matters, as we are autonomous. Furthermore, it is unlikely the appeal will succeed, as Britain — and 28 other countries — have adopted same-sex marriage legislation.
Religious hypocrisy has influenced this topic in Bermuda’s politics, and the matter of preferential sin is the dominating flaw. The Bible contains 613 commandments, and there is no commandment against homosexuality. However, the eighth commandment is “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. Additionally, there are 100 Bible verses on punishment for adultery and 25 verses on fornication — sex outside of marriage. There are 25 verses on homosexuality, which indicates that God does not consider homosexuality a worse sin than adultery.
When was the last time we heard a sermon from the pulpit on adultery and fornication? Or a sermon on the virtues of marriage over cohabitation?
Equally, how many marches have taken place in Bermuda from the religious right, evangelicals, and Preserve Marriage on the eighth commandment? Zero. Yet data shows from numerous Gallup polls, Pew Research, www.wf-laywer.com , Ourworldindata.org and the American Psychological Association that marriage rates have fallen substantially over the decades, 45 per cent of marriages end in divorce and “infidelity” is one of the leading contributors to marital breakdowns.
Why does our religious community focus on the estimated 7 per cent of the population who are not heterosexual and wish to get married, while overlooking the married couples who divorce or heterosexuals that refuse to marry despite sharing children with a partner?
Unsurprisingly, there’s no banging on the pulpit from Bermuda’s religious community on unmarried heterosexuals living together. Pew Research Centre released statistics in November 2019 revealing that most adults younger than 30 believe couples who live together first are most likely to have a successful marriage. In Britain, 85 per cent of marriages begin with cohabitation.
Bermuda’s religious right is seeming fixated on the Old Testament, which includes putting someone to death for adultery, denying entry to the assembly of the Lord if someone is born outside of marriage, and chopping off a hand for stealing.
Their arguments often ignore the New Testament and the message of acceptance preached by Jesus.
Matthew 7:4 states: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”
Similarly, John 1:12 concludes: “Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”
Ironically with all our churches, Bermuda rates twelfth in the world among the countries with the highest divorce rate (www.wf-lawyers.com). The Church’s focus should be on the promotion of marriage in general, its benefits, and the intervention through counselling for marriages before they reach their breaking point.
Interestingly, the debate of same-sex marriage paints a repeat of Bermuda’s complex history with human rights. In a referendum on August 12, 1990, 79.07 per cent of Bermudians voted in favour of retaining the death penalty, whereas Britain had abolished the death penalty in 1965. In a 1999 White Paper on Overseas Territories by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Bermuda was the only territory to have retained the death penalty. It stated that if local action was not taken, then action would be imposed by means of an Act of the British Parliament.
By December 1999, the Progressive Labour Party government introduced legislation to abolish the death penalty after an eight-hour debate in the House of Assembly. It resulted in a margin so narrow that the chairman had to use his casting vote to decide the issue.
History will record Bermuda as not only the last Overseas Territory carrying out executions under British rule, but also the only country where its Parliament has attempted to reverse same-sex marriage.
I didn’t always agree with same-sex marriage. In fact, when we had the referendum in 2016, I couldn’t make my mind up until a week before voting. Four individuals impacted and changed my perspective on same-sex marriage. They were former US president Barack Obama — influenced by his children — my mother, who ended up voting in favour of same-sex marriage when she was 74 years old, and my own two teenage children.
My mum said that “if people love each other and want to get married, why should I stop them”.
God gives us the freedom to make our own moral choices and it is before Him that we will be judged.
The Government has spent more than $250,000 appealing same-sex marriage, and the cost will be higher if it goes to London next month.
Notably, in September 2020, Bernews reported that a public-opinion poll by OutBermuda noted 53 per cent of Bermudians now say they favour same-sex marriage.
This case is rooted in an issue about discrimination based on sexuality. At its core, it revolves around denying others the freedom to love and make a lifelong commitment to one person. A minority of our population wishes to have the freedom get married and is not willing to settle for domestic partnership because of sexual orientation, and it should not have to settle for less.
Parliamentarians, go back to the House of Assembly and vote by conscience, and drop the appeals case in London.
After all, this case is not about gay rights; this is about human rights. Let’s allow Bermuda to get it right this time or risk losing our chance to decide for ourselves.
• Cheryl Pooley is a social commentator and three-times former parliamentary candidate