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Same-sex marriage vote a unique opportunity

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Michael Dunkley, the Premier, at a press conference today (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Michael Dunkley has urged voters to make sure they are on the “right side of history” when they vote in the same-sex marriage referendum.

The Premier told a press conference yesterday: “I intend to vote yes for civil unions on June 23.”

He said: “I ask all people to come out, to think about the subject, to discuss it with their colleagues and to realise that you need to be on the right side of history on this one because our lives are evolving and we need to be there.”

Yesterday was the last day for Bermudians to make sure their name was on the parliamentary register before the referendum next month. Mr Dunkley said he hoped as many people as possible would take advantage of this “unique opportunity” to have their say on the topic.

“We’d like everyone to come out and express their opinion on this,” he said.

Asked to state his position, the Premier replied: “I have expressed my position on a number of occasions. I have made it very clear that I respect people’s opinions but I support human rights and I think it’s very important that people come out and vote yes because I don’t think in the year 2016 we can discriminate against anybody’s rights.

“Whether I support or dislike somebody’s lifestyle, that’s not up for me to judge. But for me, as an individual, it’s to make sure I respect and understand people’s rights and I intend to vote yes for civil unions on June 23.”

The ballot paper on June 23 will ask voters two questions: if they support same-sex marriage and if they support civil unions. Mr Dunkley did not reveal how he would vote on the first question.

He said Bermuda was a “vibrant democracy” and he supported freedom of expression. “I’m not going to try to twist anybody’s arm on this subject,” he added. “It’s a very important subject for people and I think quite often people have a difficult time discussing it out in the open. I have no problem expressing my opinion and I respect other people’s views on this.”

bodyindent: He was asked if he was concerned that Sylvan Richards, the Minister of Social Development and Sport, was opposed to same-sex marriage and civil unions.

“I don’t have any concerns about that,” replied Mr Dunkley.

“We have had discussions in our caucus and certainly I have had discussions with the Minister.” He said last week’s Cabinet reshuffle saw responsibility for the Human Rights Commission shift to the Cabinet Office, meaning human rights were not included in Mr Richards’s brief.

The Premier insisted that though the referendum result would be non-binding it was “not a waste of time at all”.

He said it was a chance to “get people out, to get a better understanding of this issue and to ensure we continue to move in the appropriate direction”.

The Premier stated in April that he personally supported civil unions. “It’s going to happen,” he said in an interview with The Royal Gazette. “I think people need to think about history and which side of history they want to be on.” He has previously stated he believes marriage is a union between a man and a woman.

Parliamentary Registrar Tenia Woolridge told this newspaper late yesterday that she had seen an upsurge in voter registration since the referendum was announced.

“We have received a high volume of forms in the office — both changes [to existing registrations] and first-time registrations,” she said. “I will not be able to say what those numbers are until late Monday.”

At the last count, on April 15, there were 43,743 registered voters.