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Same-sex marriage: Only two of 36 MPs reply

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Mark Pettingill

One Bermuda Alliance MPs Mark Pettingill and Suzann Roberts-Holshouser have voiced their opposition to “any form of discrimination” in response to a Royal Gazette poll on same-sex marriage.

None of the other 34 Members of Parliament gave their opinion on whether same-sex couples should be given the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples: 17 did not respond to our messages, 12 confirmed that they did not want to comment, and five OBA MPs referred to their party’s consultation process over the matter. In reaching out to MPs, this newspaper called their listed party, business and some personal phone numbers more than once, left voice messages and sent follow-up e-mails to ask the question: “Do you believe same-sex marriage should be legalised in Bermuda?”

Mr Pettingill, a backbencher and former Attorney-General, told The Royal Gazette: “This is a legal and human rights matter.

“I am vehemently opposed to any form of discrimination and my personal assessment is that the law supports that position.”

The Human Rights Act stipulates that sexual orientation be included under the grounds for protection against discrimination.

Ms Roberts-Holshouser, a backbencher and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly, said: “I don’t believe in any form of discrimination.”

When contacted, Michael Dunkley outlined the Bermuda Government’s “process to stimulate community consultation discussion on same-sex marriage”.

The Premier said: “This process follows a commitment by community affairs minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin in May, when she was presented with a petition to legalise same-sex marriage in Bermuda.

“The meetings will provide members of the public with current Government research on the subject, including recent developments in other countries.

“The aim is to engage the community in a frank, honest, knowledge-based discussion about same-sex marriage. The Government believes it is important to respect the consultative and inclusive spirit of the process. It is not about members of Government issuing a stance before people meet.

“As Ms Gordon-Pamplin has said, the Government wants to listen to the thoughts being advanced by all the people of Bermuda so that nobody feels they are on the outside.

“This process is about information, consultation, discussion and feedback for the broadest consideration of an issue of public and community importance. The meetings will help the Government determine next steps on the question of same-sex marriage.”

The OBA MPs who did not reply to our question were ministers Bob Richards, Craig Cannonier, Trevor Moniz and Grant Gibbons, and backbenchers Sylvan Richards, Cole Simons, Susan Jackson and Jeff Sousa. The OBA MPs who stated they would not comment were ministers Shawn Crockwell and Wayne Scott, and backbenchers Kenneth Bascome and Nandi Outerbridge.

The OBA MPs who referred to their party line were Mr Dunkley, Ms Gordon-Pamplin, minister Jeanne Atherden, and backbenchers Glen Smith and Leah Scott.

Progressive Labour Party MPs who did not reply were leader Marc Bean, deputy David Burt, Lovitta Foggo, Glenn Blakeney, Walter Roban, House Speaker Randolph Horton, Jamahl Simmons, Kim Wilson and Dennis Lister.

PLP MPs who stated they would not comment were Wayne Furbert, Michael Weeks, Walton Brown, Rolfe Commissiong, Lawrence Scott, Zane DeSilva, Michael Scott and Derrick Burgess. Mr Burgess added: “If it comes to Parliament, you will hear from me.”

The issue of same-sex equality surfaced in the House in 2006, when former PLP MP Renee Webb’s bill to amend the Human Rights Act prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was rejected, with only one other member speaking out about the issue.

In 2012, a bill was brought to the House by former PLP families minister Mr Blakeney, but he said that his party was sensitive to the fact that it was unlikely the Island’s faith-based community would ever favour same-sex marriage.

At that time, former PLP estates minister Michael Scott delivered a passionate speech on the importance of giving homosexuals equal protection, with former Premier Dame Jennifer Smith and Mr DeSilva among those speaking out in support of a law change.

In 2013, Parliament passed the landmark legislation to include sexual orientation in the Human Rights Act for protection against discrimination.

One local lawyer told this newspaper that, if the Marriage Act of 1944 was read in conjunction with the Human Rights Act 1981, a refusal to contract a marriage between two people of the same sex could be considered discriminatory and would therefore be illegal.

In a Global Research poll commissioned by The Royal Gazette last month, 48 per cent of Bermuda voters were in favour of same-sex marriage, with 44 per cent against.

However, in that poll, 28 per cent said that their opinion of the Bermuda Government would decline if it pushed for legalisation of same-sex marriage, with 19 per cent saying their opinion would improve.

Another poll, released by Profiles of Bermuda in May, found that 58 per cent of voters opposed same-sex marriage, while 38.6 per cent were in favour of legalisation.

Suzann Roberts-Holshouser