Same-sex marriage at Privy Council ʽcelebrates’ first anniversary — why are we still waiting?
In August 2019, Bermuda had its first Pride parade. On a sun-soaked summer day in the heart of town, thousands of LGBTQ people and their allies gathered in a collective show of support for love, dignity and respect.
While it was a great day, a part of me couldn’t let go that this was not the Bermuda I knew. At least, it didn’t paint the full picture.
In 2018, I was a university student when the Domestic Partnership Act took effect and same-sex marriage was banned. A Guardian headline at the time read: “Bermuda becomes first jurisdiction in the world to repeal same-sex marriage.” Ellen DeGeneres tweeted to express her disapproval. “I guess I’m cancelling my trip,” she said. For the first time in my life, saying I was from Bermuda was accompanied by an undeniable feeling of shame.
Bermuda is rarely in the international spotlight for anything more than a one-hour History Channel special about the Bermuda Triangle, and now that it finally was, the occasion was not worth celebrating.
Almost four years have passed, and it feels like we are still in a similar place. The Privy Council has yet to make its ruling on marriage equality and, after a year of waiting, I have to say: this is exhausting.
It’s exhausting to see the Government fight so hard for an Act already deemed unconstitutional but not for better public schools, better support for our homeless population or for any of the other things that would be actually in the public’s best interest.
I unequivocally believe that it will always be in the public’s best interest to uphold human rights at all costs. Even if that means not being able to pander to your voter base.
Human rights aren’t privileges that we have to earn but are instead an affirmation of our humanity, granted simply because we are human and are thus deserving of dignity, justice, respect and the right to live free from discrimination.
In any fight against oppression, it is crucial to centre the humanity of the disenfranchised. This case is no exception. Queer people are people. They are not political pawns, a problem to be fixed, or a burden to be alleviated. They are our friends, our family, our coworkers.
As of 2013, sexual orientation is a protected class in the Human Rights Act. Unfortunately, as the Domestic Partnership Act states, a marriage is void unless the persons involved are respectively a man and a woman. This rule “applies notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the Human Rights Act 1981”.
Regardless of your stance on marriage equality, shouldn’t we all agree that if the Human Rights Act has to be ignored for a Bill to be valid that there’s a problem?
The Human Rights Act exists to prevent people and institutions such as the Government from taking way our rights. I don’t know about you, but I want to live under a government that protects my rights and the rights of the people that I love.
But instead, we have a government wasting taxpayer money to uphold a ban that discriminates against its own citizens.
The Domestic Partnership Act was often promoted as a compromise between LGBTQ people asking for equal treatment under the law and those who oppose same-sex marriage. Jonathan Crow claimed the Act “is a package of compromise. It is not adhering to a single religious creed at the exclusion of all others”.
Despite what Crow and other supporters of the Domestic Partnership Act say, there is no room for compromise here. It’s not even really a compromise if both parties are not affected by the decision in some way. And it’s not heterosexual people who endure adverse mental and physical health outcomes caused by experiencing discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation.
It seems to me that the only people who are truly impacted by the marriage-equality debate are the couples that want to have a same-sex marriage.
Oftentimes, queer people are required to shrink to make other people more comfortable. They are the ones that have to hide, to assimilate. If they can’t fit into society, then that’s their fault. But the validity of the queer existence is not contingent on the opinions of cishet people. The heteronormative conviction that being straight and cisgender is the natural way to be is not only scientifically disputed but it reinforces the harmful concept that there is a single “correct” way to exist.
The ultimate duty of policymakers is to act in the public’s best interest. However, this cannot happen if politicians are incapable of separating their own religious beliefs from decisions that affect people in a society as diverse as Bermuda. Scott Simons supported the Domestic Partnership Act on the basis that Bermuda is by majority a “God-fearing society”. Derrick Burgess supported the ban on same-sex marriage because he wanted to stay on God’s good side. But marriage is not a religious institution and thus religious groups should not actually have the right to determine who can and cannot be married.
Our freedom to believe what we want does not include the right to force others to live the way we deem “right” especially when their right to exist doesn’t impact our own. Only 3 per cent of the respondents surveyed by OutBermuda in 2020 claimed that they were negatively impacted by same-sex couples who were about to marry, adopt or live together in the past three years — the most common reasons being awkwardness around public displays of affection, strained relationships after family members came out, and having to explaining the matter to their children.
Noticeably all these things would happen whether or not same-sex marriage is legal — because queer people exist. They have always been here and they will always be; this is something no law will be ever able to change.
Years ago, I overheard a conversation concerning the case for marriage equality. One man called it “disgusting” that queer Bermudians were fighting for the right to marry and weren’t satisfied with domestic partnerships. In times such as that, I am reminded of something that author N.K. Jemisin wrote as the dedication to one of her books: “For all those that have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question.”
And to them I say, thank you. Perhaps one day it will not require bravery to simply exist in a world that wasn’t made for us.
The world to come is better than the one we know. It is a world that affirms our right to exist without explanation, without debate. A world that accepts that human diversity is not only natural and normal, but beautiful.
The world to come doesn't compromise on human rights. Because in that world it is understood that to compromise on human rights is to deny people their humanity.
I hope that Bermuda will be a part of that world and perhaps the Privy Council will help guide us in that direction. But it will be on us to transform the intransigent and ubiquitous cultural attitudes that perpetuate homophobia and discrimination.
It will involve having uncomfortable conversations, taking the time to educate ourselves, and actually listening to LGBTQ people in our community about the issues that affect them.
In May 2017, same-sex marriage first became legal after the Supreme Court ruled that the ban was discriminatory under the Human Rights Act
In December 2017, the Domestic Partnership Act was passed and later took effect in June 2018. The Act banned same-sex marriages and offered the option of domestic partnerships instead.
In June 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the ban was unconstitutional. The Government later appealed the court ruling.
In November 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled the ban to be unconstitutional because it had a primarily religious purpose, leading the Government to appeal to the Privy Council.
The Privy Court heard the case on February 3 and 4 last year, and has yet to make a ruling.
• Chelsea Hill has previously written articles discussing oppression and social justice, including on LGBTQ issues, for Inquire Publication at Queen’s University, in Ontario, Canada, where she is a recent graduate
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