Preserve Marriage no longer a charity
Preserve Marriage is no longer a charity after the island's Charity Commissioners decided its purposes were “unlawful” and caused “more detriment than benefit”.
The panel took the decision to reject an application for renewal of the group's charitable status on May 16, according to minutes of the meeting shared with The Royal Gazette under public access to information.
The decision was shared with the public by Preserve Marriage itself, in a press release it sent out yesterday morning, shortly before leading a demonstration outside Parliament against same-sex marriage.
The organisation said the rejection from the commissioners came despite a “20-plus page submission” it made detailing “how it fulfilled its mandate to educate the public on the issue of maintaining marriage between a man and a woman”.
The May 16 minutes reveal that the commissioners denied the application for three reasons:
• Preserve Marriage's purposes being “unlawful” in light of the landmark May 5 Supreme Court ruling allowing gay couples to wed in Bermuda;
• its purposes causing “more detriment than benefit” by appearing to “single out and victimise” people based on their sexual orientation; and
• its purposes being purely political.
The commissioners agreed that since the Government wasn't planning to appeal the Supreme Court ruling, it should be considered final.
The minutes state: “Insofar as the organisation's primary purpose is to advocate for a definition of marriage which is now contrary to law and, in doing so, to seek to deny services to a group of individuals defined by virtue of a protected characteristic under the [Human Rights] Act, it fails the public benefit test.”
In its press release, Preserve Marriage said in its first year as a charity it had held town hall meetings, public information sessions, island-wide marriage events and marriage-enriching seminars, fulfilling its mandate to educate the public.
“We felt it imperative to educate the community and Government so that the public had the opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to stand for marriage between a man and a woman,” it said.
The group claimed it was “invited by the courts and Government to intervene in the same-sex marriage case to ensure the community's interests were represented”.
It added: “Preserve Marriage was invited by the judge to intervene to support the Registrar-General's office, the very office which is responsible for the Charities Commission.”
Preserve Marriage applied to intervene in the case, as did the Human Rights Commission, and both were granted permission by Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons.
Lawyer Rod Attride-Stirling, who represented the HRC in the matter, said yesterday: “The court did not invite them to intervene. There was no invitation. They applied for and received permission.”
The Attorney-General's Chambers did not respond to a request for comment. Preserve Marriage was granted charitable status last year, despite 31 letters of objection from the public.
Charity Commissioners chairman Richard Ambrosio said there were “quite a few” objections this year, though they have yet to be released under Pati. As of yesterday afternoon, Preserve Marriage's website still had a donation section but, without charitable status, it must now cease any public fundraising.
The press release said it would continue to operate as a registered company, with more than 500 members, and would “continue to inform and educate the public concerning traditional marriage and same-sex marriage”.
It noted that OutBermuda, an organisation which supports same-sex marriage, recently had its charitable status renewed. Mr Attride-Stirling said: “It would be unusual for the Charity Commissioners to permit any entity to be given charitable status whose stated purpose is to prevent another group human rights or the exercise of human rights. And that's the key purpose of Preserve Marriage.
“It could never be a legitimate charitable purpose, to prevent others from having human rights. OutBermuda ... are advocating for human rights for a minority group.”
He said if Preserve Marriage had not “led the charge” against civil unions, the Government would likely have passed civil union legislation, and the issue of same-sex marriage would not need to have been decided by the courts.
•To see the full statement,s click the PDF under “Related Media”