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No OBA fallout, says junior minister

Sylvan Richards, the Junior Minister for Home Affairs

There was no flak incurred within the One Bermuda Alliance for Sylvan Richards’s apparent split from party ranks on the issue of same-sex marriage, according to the Junior Minister of Home Affairs.

On the day after the OBA announced plans to bring civil unions before Parliament, the House of Assembly opened for a new session with a private member’s bill from Mr Richards on its order of business.

The Same-Sex Marriage Referendum Act 2016 was not ultimately tabled by the Hamilton South MP owing to a procedural issue on a busy day for legislators.

Asked if his move had rankled colleagues in the OBA, Mr Richards told The Royal Gazette that it had not — and that “nobody was surprised”.

“We are very tolerant of each other’s viewpoints,” he said, adding that there was broader support within the party’s caucus for a referendum on the subject, as there was for adopting civil unions.

“At the end of the day, we respect each other’s views,” he added. “We don’t all think alike; we are not sheep. I did make everyone aware of my intentions, including the Premier.”

Same-sex marriage is opposed by the group Preserve Marriage, which has proposed settling the issue through a referendum — a move widely opposed by supporters of the unions.

Trevor Moniz, the Attorney-General, told a public meeting on Thursday evening that the Government had no intention of bringing same-sex marriage into law, although opponents have repeatedly said that civil unions inevitably lead in that direction.

Mr Richards was not prepared to discuss his personal views on the topic, which has been the issue of a heavily divided national debate for several months.

“The discussion on same-sex marriage and civil unions is one of national importance. As a parliamentarian, I think it is probably one of our most important and difficult conversations. There are different viewpoints across the spectrum in Bermuda.

“When I look at the situation, and the discussions in other countries around the world, I felt that for Bermuda, because we are a small island nation and because it has become a contentious issue, that the best way forward was for us to put it to the voting population by way of a referendum.”

It had been the topic of “very vigorous discussion” within the caucus, Mr Richards said.

“Some feel civil unions are the way to go; some feel we should do nothing and let the status quo prevail by letting the Chief Justice’s ruling take effect. Others feel this should be put to the voting public, and there is an increasing sentiment for this to occur.”

Asked if he believed a matter characterised by many as a human rights issue was appropriate for the popular vote, Mr Richards simply reiterated that in light of its national importance, with “such a variety of views, and people very passionate about their positions”, it was best to “let the people decide so that everybody is involved in this discussion”.