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Government unaware of Bill implications

Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, the shadow home affairs minister, hit out at PLP legislation (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Government yesterday admitted it had no idea how many people could gain Bermuda status if a new law to introduce domestic partnerships is approved.

The proposed legislation, designed as a replacement for same-sex marriage, is expected to pass in the House of Assembly today, with the support of all 24 Progressive Labour Party’s MPs.

But an aspect of the Bill that has received little attention is the implications for immigration — as foreigners who form domestic partnerships with Bermudians will get the right to Bermudian status, in line with spouses of Bermudians.

A Ministry of Home Affairs spokeswoman told The Royal Gazette that same-sex partners of Bermudians had already obtained that right in 2015 when the Supreme Court made its ruling in the landmark Bermuda Bred case.

She said the existing benefit would be “formalised” under the Domestic Partnership Act.

The same benefit would also apply to opposite-sex domestic partners if couples choose that route instead of traditional marriage.

The spokeswoman said: “There is no estimate to how many persons will apply for Bermudian status now.”

Spouses of Bermudians can apply for Bermudian status under the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956 after ten years of marriage if they have lived on the island with their husband or wife on a continuous basis for seven years.

A total of 134 applications from spouses for status are expected this financial year, compared to a predicted 122 for the financial year 2016/17 and an actual number of 100 for 2015/16.

The Supreme Court issued a ruling in May this year that paved the way for gay couples to marry in Bermuda and six same-sex weddings have since taken place on the island.

Human rights lawyer Rod Attride-Stirling pointed out this week the effect of the judgment was to make same-sex marriages involving Bermudians lawful, whether conducted here or overseas, if they took place after the Human Rights Act was amended in 2013 to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The same-sex marriages which have happened on the island since May will remain legal marriages under the Domestic Partnership Act and those non-Bermudian spouses will, in time, have the opportunity to apply for Bermudian status.

But Mr Attride-Stirling said the legislation would not protect earlier marriages that took place overseas since 2013.

The Ministry of Home Affairs spokeswoman said: “As a result of the Bermuda Bred case, the Chief Justice conferred certain rights on same-sex partners to be treated as spouses of Bermudians and this has been implemented.

“This benefit will continue for same-sex partners, formalised under the Act going forward.”

Shadow home affairs minister Patricia Gordon Pamplin said: “One of the things that was feared at one point in time by the PLP was that we, as an OBA government, were bending over backwards to try to skew the voter base, which was never the intent.

“But that was the story they gave to the public. Now they may want to consider whether they are doing something similar by having the legislation worded in this manner.”

Lawyer Mark Pettingill added that a separate problem with the Domestic Partnership Act was that it was unconstitutional.

Mr Pettingill, who represented the gay couple whose civil proceedings against the Government led to the May Supreme Court judgment, said: “The proposed legislation is taking back a specific right that exists in law — that is, the right for same-sex couples to marry.

“Consideration must be given to the protections enshrined in our Constitution, which affords every individual the right to the protection of law, freedom of association, the right to religious freedom and so on.

“Consideration must be given to the concern that the proposed Bill offends the Bermuda Constitution Order and that the rolling back of a legal human right is unacceptable in this day and age.”