I never thought they would really follow through on Domestic Partnership Act
When our government originally published the domestic partnership legislation, I was disappointed because I was hoping this item would be lost in a myriad of priorities.
I do agree with the sections that allow persons to perform ceremonies or not. I don't agree with forcing persons to perform civil partnership or marriage ceremonies.
I tried and failed to understand belief systems that make it reasonable and fair to pass this legislation.
Then I read an article about people who support gun ownership as a constitutional right in the United States. The fear centres of their brains have become overdeveloped and they believe fighting gun control is defending the “American way of life”. Fear makes them unable to respond to reasoned or rational arguments.
The article gave me understanding and context.
Then I wondered if there was a parallel in Bermuda with those opposed to marriage equality.
Are people afraid a “way of life” will be destroyed if they allow persons of the same gender to marry?
Would fear prevent people from seeing this change to our laws as demeaning the humanity of some and elevating the humanity of others, with the result of continued inequality and erosion of human rights and dignities?
Frightened people may not see that their actions in persuading our parliamentary leaders to put in place domestic partnerships will create more of what we don't want, which is economic uncertainty and thus more fear.
How will this happen?
People outside considering coming here will impose their own personal sanctions based on their beliefs. If they believe in accepting all people for who they are, they may outlaw travelling to or doing business in Bermuda.
Companies who promote human rights and dignities as part of their corporate culture may decide not to bring business here.
People who make these decisions will have a variety of personal sexual orientations.
In response to my last opinion, one friend who is deeply troubled by the idea of same-gender marriage asked what the consequences of allowing marriage equality might be?
I've done some research and the only statistics are in countries that now have marriage equality, as these are the only countries that can track what it was like before and after implementation.
This is what the studies show:
Suicide and attempted suicide rates have reduced since the introduction of marriage equality, and the emotional and psychological health of persons who are lesbian, gay or bisexual has improved, but because of continued systemic homophobia, suicide and attempted-suicide rates remain significantly higher in the LGBT population than in the heterosexual population.
Children of same-gender families no longer feel “less than”, as their parents' relationship is now legitimate, but they still encounter greater stress because of systemic homophobia.
It is relevant to note the United Nations has an entire area devoted to sexual orientation and to quote a tiny bit of what it says:
“LGBT people have always been a part of our communities. There are examples from every locality and time period, from prehistoric rock paintings in South Africa and Egypt to ancient Indian medical texts and early Ottoman literature. Many societies have traditionally been open towards LGBT people, including several Asian societies that have traditionally recognised a third gender.”
Some people seem to think children may be adversely affected. The United Nations says and I quote:
“Are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people dangerous to children?
“No. There is no link between homosexuality and child abuse of any kind. LGBT people all over the world can be good parents, teachers and role models for young people. Portraying LGBT people as paedophiles or dangerous to children is wholly inaccurate, offensive and a distraction from the need for serious and appropriate measures to protect all children, including those coming to terms with their sexual orientation and gender identity.”
To take away the right to marry and replace it with a different arrangement is creating a class system at a time when we're trying to create a world where all people are free and equal in dignity and rights. This is undesirable.
The Domestic Partnership Act creates uncertainty because it is not clear whether couples who enter into such a partnership will enjoy the same rights and securities as married opposite-gender couples do.
Couples will continue to marry outside Bermuda, and for us to continue to prevent those marriages happening in Bermuda and having the full authority and endorsement of the law creates uncertainty, anxiety and stress for persons in same-gender relationships or marriages.
The change to the law creates uncertainty, and uncertainty means we will have litigation to provide clarity.
The campaign to create equality will not end until we have it.
Some people have expressed the opinion that it wasn't right for us to get marriage equality through a court decision. This is how our system works, and it is how it came into force in the United States.
Justice Anthony Kennedy in the US Supreme Court judgment in the final case there that confirmed the constitutional right for persons of the same gender to marry (Obergefell v Hodges) said:
“The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms such as expression, intimacy and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation ... There is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices.
“Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live, there will be someone to care for the other.
“[W]hile Lawrence confirmed a dimension of freedom that allows individuals to engage in intimate association without criminal liability, it does not follow that freedom stops there. Outlaw to outcast may be a step forward, but it does not achieve the full promise of liberty.
“Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser.
“Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives. As the state itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects. It demeans gays and lesbians for the state to lock them out of a central institution of the nation's society.
“Especially against a long history of disapproval of their relationships, this denial to same-sex couples of the right to marry works a grave and continuing harm. The imposition of this disability on gays and lesbians serves to disrespect and subordinate them ...
“It is of no moment whether advocates of same-sex marriage now enjoy or lack momentum in the democratic process. The issue before the court here is the legal question whether the Constitution protects the right of same-sex couples to marry.
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfilment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilisation's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law ...”
Marriage equality is not the final solution to end discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender persons.
Countries that have implemented marriage equality still show statistically that suicide rates and attempted-suicide rates are still considerably higher in lesbian, gay and bisexual persons, especially young persons.
So marriage equality is one step that achieves equal legal status for LGBT persons, but accepting all persons as equal members of society no matter their status is the only way we will achieve the goal of a healthier, happier society. One where all people know they are free and equal in dignity and rights.
For this to happen, each one of us must do some inner work of self-reflection. To notice when we may be judging or being critical of ourselves or others. When we learn to manage our minds and only think in positive loving ways. To regularly affirm our good and the good of all people. To engage in a practice of having a grateful heart. When we keep our hearts open, we have a much greater opportunity of raising the level of interaction we have with others in our lives. When we look to appreciate things about each other. To continually let go of our histories and live intentionally and in the present. The only solution to me seems to be concerted and continued respectful, dignified activism to bring about change at the grassroots level, through the courts and at the leadership level.
It's important not to look back, but to continue the path to create the only reality that can ever exist and that is all people are free and equal in dignity and rights. All people are equally precious and deserve to have the same rights by law.
I'm asking every person who believes in these ideals to respectfully advocate in whatever seems appropriate for them. To do the work individually and collectively to create a world where fears are allayed and trust and faith in the goodness of all people is restored.
• Monica Jones is a former attorney, and modern-day artist and writer, who has sold her art through private sales from her home studio in Pembroke for the past several years. She started her personal writing in 2010 and has published a newsletter, blog and regular Facebook dialogue, with the goal of creating a more peaceful and humane world