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Campaigners prepare for same-sex referendum

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Speaking out: a ‘Love Wins’ banner has been created in favour of same-sex marriage, with supporters submitting photographs of themselves (Graphic supplied)

The referendum on same-sex marriage and civil unions will be held on June 23, giving campaigners on either side six weeks to get their message across to voters.

A formal notice was published in the Official Gazette yesterday, confirming the two questions that will appear on the ballot paper:

• Are you in favour of same-sex marriage in Bermuda?

• Are you in favour of same-sex civil unions in Bermuda?

Neither side of the debate was willing to say yesterday when their official campaigns would be launched but one supporter of same-sex marriage said he expected there to be a concerted push in the last three weeks leading up to the referendum from those encouraging voters to answer “yes” to both questions.

Tony Brannon told The Royal Gazette: “The feeling is that rather than waste any energy in May, the plan was to go hell for leather during the last three weeks. Everyone’s attention spans are nanoseconds these days. Three weeks [before] would be a good time.”

Mr Brannon, who launched a petition calling for same-sex marriage last year, said various organisations were in talks about co-ordinating a joint campaign but nothing was confirmed yet.

“I am totally open to being in lockstep with a common effort; I’m waiting to hear if there is a common effort officially,” he said.

“Obviously, it makes sense for everyone to get together on it, but in the meantime I’m just doing my own thing.”

It is expected that groups including the Rainbow Alliance, Marriage Equality Bermuda, Same Love Bermuda and the newly registered charity OUTBermuda will be involved in pushing the “yes” message in the run-up to the referendum.

Among those leading the effort will be members of the Bermuda Bred Company, a group of binational couples who won a landmark ruling in the Supreme Court last November, giving same-sex partners of Bermudians the same rights to reside and seek employment as spouses of Bermudians.

Mr Brannon, meanwhile, has been promoting the hashtag #lovewins and the slogan “Yes Yes Love Must Win” on social media, as well as inviting supporters to submit photographs of themselves to the website www.samelovebermuda.com for a rainbow filter to be added — the rainbow being a symbol of LGBTQ pride.

Those featured include singer/songwriter Heather Nova, record producer and composer Felix Tod and lawyer Mark Pettingill, the former Attorney-General.

The charity Preserve Marriage, which is opposed to same-sex marriage and civil unions, has said its campaign will likely encourage voters to answer “no” to both questions.

Chairman Melvyn Bassett would not comment yesterday when asked when the campaign would be launched.

Preserve Marriage treasurer Mark Hall, a youth minister for Word of Life, said: “I can’t give you a date right now. Obviously, everybody is working towards June 23.”

He added that the group was the umbrella organisation for those against same-sex marriage and that the campaign was likely to focus on paid advertising in the media.

“We have got all the churches for United for Change and all the constituents that signed our petition,” Mr Hall said. “That was almost 10,000. That’s what we are seeking to be: a voice for people who want to preserve traditional marriage.”

Coincidentally, a referendum on the European Union is taking place in Britain on June 23 and the campaigns for and against must follow strict rules on spending.

Tenia Woolridge, Bermuda’s Parliamentary Registrar, said: “We do not have strict advertising laws for referenda like other countries. Our office does not have any part in campaigning done by political parties or other groups.”

Michael Dunkley confirmed at a press conference yesterday that the referendum results would be “non-binding”. The Premier said the vote was “an opportunity for Government and for the people of Bermuda to expression their opinions on a very important subject”.

This newspaper asked the Cabinet Office and the Parliamentary Registrar whether registered voters who were overseas on June 23 would be able to do an early, postal or proxy vote, but there was no response by press time.

Registration for voters who are registering for the first time or making changes to their existing registration details, will close on Wednesday at 5pm. Registration is available online at www.elections.gov.bm or at the Parliamentary Registration office in Craig Appin House, third floor, 8 Wesley Street in Hamilton

Showing support: a ‘Love Wins’ banner has been created in favour of same-sex marriage, with supporters submitting photographs of themselves (Graphic supplied)
Community divided: demonstrators for and against same-sex marriage on the grounds of the Cabinet Building in February (File photograph)