Brown defends Domestic Partnership Bill
Proposed legislation to replace same-sex marriage with “domestic partnerships” is a compromise deal, the Minister of Home Affairs admitted last night.
Walton Brown said the Domestic Partnership Bill would grant a “raft of legal benefits for same-sex couples” that would not exist if a Private Member's Bill to outlaw same-sex marriage was passed by Parliament. Mr Brown added: “This Bill will alter what is the status quo with respect to same-sex marriage.
“The Bill will remove that and in place provide for a raft of legal benefits for same-sex couples.
“It is being done for one simple reason: the status quo, which allows for same-sex marriage, is embraced by one segment of the community. It is not embraced by another.”
Mr Brown was speaking at a town hall meeting at the Bermuda Industrial Union headquarters in Hamilton to outline the controversial plan to water down same-sex marriage to a domestic partnerships, open to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples.
He said the Progressive Labour Party had committed to creating a framework of legal benefits for same-sex couples. Mr Brown added: “We won the election in part on that basis and we have a set of circumstances in which one Member [Wayne Furbert], representing a majority of Members in Parliament, is intent or has been intent on proposing a Private Member's Bill which would outlaw same-sex marriage.
“Not a party Bill, not a government Bill — a Private Member's Bill.
“If that Bill is tabled or would be tabled, it would command the support of a majority of Members of Parliament because the majority of the Members of Parliament do not support same-sex marriage.
“If that Bill was to pass, same-sex couples would have no legal protections whatsoever.
“What this government is doing, is ensuring that same-sex couples do indeed have a raft of legal benefits because of what would happen if we do nothing.”
Mr Brown highlighted his support for LGBTQ rights during the public meeting and said that people who are already in a same-sex marriage would not lose that status if the Bill was passed.
He added: “Secondly, this Bill will facilitate the recognition of domestic partnerships, civil unions and same-sex marriages in other jurisdictions.
“There is no current legal framework for fully embracing that. This Bill will accomplish that.”
He said a court ruling by Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons allowed for marital banns to be published but it “did not allow for ancillary changes in a whole series of legislation”.
Mr Brown said: “Those can only be made by Parliament and there is little appetite in Parliament today for validating same-sex marriages.”
Melvin Bassett, chairman of Preserve Marriage, told the meeting the charity supported the legislation in principle, but did not believe Government should celebrate the union.
He added: “That should be left for the individuals to celebrate such a union.”
Mr Brown said he was not in favour of that approach. He added: “It just seems to be a request that is rooted in a desire not to have people fully and properly acknowledge their union. In my view, that is not a defensible position.”
One mother said her gay son would likely leave Bermuda if the Bill passed because he would feel like a second-class citizen.
Mr Brown replied that he would not want anyone to feel “this country is not for them”. But he added that the island was not at a stage where it embraced and celebrated differences.
He added: “We are shackled by hyperbole and we are shackled by vicious comments on both sides and that doesn't help us. It just creates a more divided Bermuda. We have to find a way to get into that space. This Bill, as everyone can see, is a compromise piece of legislation.”
Her son asked what Mr Brown would do to ensure that “no negative discrimination or disrespect is passed among the LGBTQ in Bermuda where we already see so much of this even now”.
Mr Brown responded that he would “use the resources of Government to help provide for a better understanding, a greater appreciation of differences, and embracing of people”.
Another member of the public said Preserve Marriage wanted to “preserve the sanctity of marriage because it's a cornerstone of a family unit”.
He added: “We are saying that to remove the foundation of heterosexual marriage is to undo more than just someone's sexual orientation, it's the family unit that you're messing with.”
The meeting, attended by more than 150 people, was the first to be held as part of the public consultation and another is to be held next week.
•The draft Bill can be found at gov.bm and members of the public can send comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org