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House: MPs approve domestic partnerships

Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, tabled the Domestic Partnership Act 2017 on November 24 (File photograph)

Legislation to replace same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships was passed in the House of Assembly last night.

The Domestic Partnership Act 2017 was passed following a five-hour debate after a vote in which 24 MPs supported the Bill being reported to the House, while ten opposed it.

Home affairs minister Walton Brown, who introduced the Bill, said it would provide same-sex couples with a raft of legal rights but prevent any further same-sex marriages.

He also confirmed that the legislation would not have retroactive affect on same-sex marriages after the Supreme Court ruling in the Godwin and DeRoche case against the Registrar-General.

In that case, Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons ruled that the Registrar-General could not reject a gay couple’s application to marry in Bermuda and that the common law definition of marriage as between a man and a woman was “inconsistent with the provisions of the Human Rights Act as they constitute deliberate different treatment on the basis of sexual orientation”.

During yesterday’s debate, PLP backbencher Lawrence Scott said the Bill brought balance and gave “the LGBTQ community the benefits it has been asking for”, while keeping the “the traditional definition of marriage”.

He said: “As it stands now, they can have the name marriage but without the benefits. But after this Bill passes, they have the benefits and just not the name marriage. The benefits are what they really want.”

However, shadow home affairs minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin said she could not support the Bill “having given a community something only to take it away”.

She added: “I don’t like to accept that it is OK for us to treat our sisters and brothers differently, whether fair or unfair, to treat them differently under similar circumstances.” Leah Scott, the deputy leader of the One Bermuda Alliance, also said she could not support the Bill because it took away a right that already existed.

However, PLP backbencher Wayne Furbert said he supported the Bill even though it was not everything he wanted.

He added: “I support it because at the end of the day it removes the right to same-sex marriage and it tells the court that this Parliament will stand for what is right.”

However, Jeff Baron, the Shadow Minister of National Security, said it was a “very flawed and, frankly, shameful Bill”.

Instead of protecting equality, he said, it was “stripping Bermuda’s reputation naked for the world to see”.

Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier, supported the Bill and said it came from of a “desire to bring some sort of stability on how the country will manage itself around this issue”.

But the Minister of Transport said: “This is an issue in progress. It is going to be shaped and moulded by us and it is going to be shaped and moulded by the generations to come. So do not believe what we decide here is final.”

Craig Cannonier described the Bill as “lukewarm” and said: “It’s half and half. It’s a compromise Bill. I would prefer it if you were hot or cold.”

PLP backbencher Michael Scott acknowledged that the Act was a “compromise” but added that his conscience did not allow him to support the Bill because “if falls short”. He added: “I will not rob same sex couples of that opportunity. I have seen same sex couples raise children with great success. Every citizen must be allowed the liberty to freely choose.

Shadow legal affairs minister Trevor Moniz described the Bill as a “retrograde action”. He said: “To take that right away from them is something that is abhorrent to me.”

PLP backbencher Neville Tyrrell threw his weight behind the Bill. He said: “A lot of people are saying this is a compromise, I don’t think it is. It’s a middle road. Nobody is really going to win.”

PLP MP Scott Simmons described the Bill as imperfect but said: “This Government has decided to address this issue that no one else wanted to deal with.

“We set we would repeal and replace but we cannot satisfy everyone. It’s not perfect. But we have to go with what we have got.”

Sylvan Richards, the shadow minister of planning, said he would support the Government’s Bill, which he described as a “halfway house” that achieves what needs to be achieved at this time.

“It’s going to give individuals the rights they need and it’s going to keep marriage between a man and a woman, which was my goal. Then it’s going to be the future generations that will take it to the next step.”

However, shadow education minister Cole Simons would not support the Bill. He said: “This country has to evolve like other countries.”

Meanwhile, PLP MP Derrick Burgess said he would back the Bill, which “is not all I wanted, but this is what we promised”.

“This is the best solution. I support this Bill and believe marriage should be between a man and a woman.”

Grant Gibbons, the shadow economic development minister, confirmed he would not be supporting the “regressive” Bill.

He said: “This is a human rights issue. We are taking away marriage equality rights from the LGBTQ community.”

Opposition leader Jeanne Atherden added: “We are taking away rights that have been granted to communities of individuals who want to start families.”

Mr Brown concluded: “We need to find a way in Bermuda to fully embrace greater rights for all members of the community.

“But the status quo will not stand. On the ground, the political reality is that if we do not lead we would have a Private Members Bill tabled to outlaw same-sex marriage.

“That Bill would pass because more than 18 MPs are opposed to same sex marriage. If that Bill passes same sex couples have no rights whatsoever. This is tough for me. But I don’t shy away from tough decisions.”

Jeanne Atherden, Jeff Baron, Michael Dunkley, Grant Gibbons, Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, Susan Jackson, Trevor Moniz, Leah Scott, Cole Simons and Ben Smith opposed the Bill being reported to the House.