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MPs urged to rule on same-sex marriage

Tony Brannon

As the Island starts a dialogue on same-sex marriage, campaigner Tony Brannon — whose petition initiated Bermuda’s public discussions — said he would like the matter to be brought swiftly before Parliament for a decision.

“I think there are people that are sympathetic to this in the Progressive Labour Party as well as the One Bermuda Alliance,” Mr Brannon said.

“If they were allowed a conscience vote, I think it could carry the day, rather than going through the expense of a referendum. We have elected people to make difficult decisions on our behalf.”

Even though a survey by the Department of Human Affairs shows about 60 per cent of Bermudians are against same-sex marriage, Mr Brannon believes change could happen as swiftly here as elsewhere.

He pointed to the example of Ireland, an overwhelmingly Catholic nation where 62 per cent of the population voted in favour of same-sex marriage this year.

Mr Brannon conceded that politicians would try to avoid issues if they felt it would affect their ability to be re-elected.

Pointing to the changing stance on the issue by United States President Barack Obama, he said: “One local politician told me it was all very easy for Obama; he knew he could say what he wanted because by that point he couldn’t be re-elected. I just think it’s the right thing to do.”

The US offers another example of swift change: in the state of Massachusetts, the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Others gradually followed suit: Connecticut in 2008; Vermont and Iowa in 2009; New Hampshire, 2010; New York, 2011, and Washington and Maine in 2012.

In a 2013 ruling, the US Supreme Court found that the federal government had to recognise such unions in states where they were legal, and 28 more states opted to extend marriage rights. That right went nationwide earlier this year.

The stances of other British jurisdictions were presented at the first information session this week [see sidebar]; a second is to be held tomorrow at the Bermuda College, which Mr Brannon plans to attend.

He questioned whether a full 60 per cent of Bermudians opposed same-sex marriage, when polls carried out by the media such as The Royal Gazette got yes votes “well in excess of the negative”.

The issue surfaced two years ago with the passage of the Human Rights Amendment Act 2013 which added sexual orientation discrimination to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.

Even though same-sex marriage was not on the agenda, it was extensively debated in the House of Assembly — with some MPs noting that many Bermudian voters, particularly younger voters, had seemed unfazed by the issue. Asked if he believed Bermuda had come far since the emotionally fraught days of the 1994’s Stubbs Bill, which drew widespread opposition although it merely struck down an antiquated law against sodomy, Mr Brannon said: “Bermuda has changed.

“When I was a little boy I saw the protests against discrimination in the movie theatres. I wasn’t even aware that there was a separation, or that schools were segregated. When I was a kid, you would hear shock over interracial relationships. Now from what I see, especially in the younger generation, people go out with whoever they want to. They don’t care.”

Audiences this week were told by Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, the Minister of Community, Culture and Sports, that the process to address Mr Brannon’s petition “will not happen overnight; it may cause frustration — but it must be methodical”.

In response, Mr Brannon said he didn’t want the issue to become “something that’s going to sit around, with town-hall meetings for another two, three, four years”.

He maintained that approving same-sex marriage would substantially raise the Island’s profile as a tourism destination at a time when visitor numbers were down.

“What we need to do is do the right thing with human rights,” he said.

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<p>Views in other jurisdictions</p>

Gibraltar: approved civil partnerships for both same-sex and opposite sex couples in 2014.

Jersey: approved civil partnerships for same-sex couples in 2012.

Guernsey: proposals to introduce same-sex civil partnerships under consideration.

Falkland Islands: same-sex unions not recognised.

Turks and Caicos Islands: same-sex unions not recognised.

Cayman Islands: constitution only recognises marriages of opposite sex couples.

British Virgin Islands: no legislation for same-sex couples, but constitution prohibits discrimination.

Pitcairn Island: approved same-sex marriages — but has no same-sex couples.