Gay couple urges people to ‘put aside fear’
A gay couple set to wed today in Bermuda asked the “vocal minority” who oppose same-sex marriage to put aside their “fear and fundamentalism” and be “open and kind” to all their fellow citizens.
Bermudian Bruce Whayman and his fiancé, Roland Maertens, who live together in Australia, where same-sex marriage is not allowed, have chosen to come to Mr Whayman's home country to tie the knot at the Registry General's office in front of family and friends.
Although the marriage will not be recognised in Australia, the couple told The Royal Gazette it was important to them to officially commit to one another and take advantage of the “courageous decision” by Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons, which legalised gay marriage here on May 5.
Mr Whayman and Mr Maertens, the first gay couple to make their Bermuda wedding plans public, want to send a message to those trying to have Mrs Justice Simmons's decision reversed, including government backbencher Wayne Furbert and the charity Preserve Marriage, as well as support young gay Bermudians.
Mr Whayman, 50, said: “People need to see that we are people.
“We are here, we are just like you. We want to get married here. People need to start talking to each other, particularly the religious faction in our society.”
The organic food truck owner added: “Just live and let live, really. That's what it comes down to. You have to be kind to one another. We all have to live in the same place. We are all going to see each other fairly regularly, I would imagine.
“Why would you make things so awkward for yourself and for other people? Bermudians have this wonderful ability to come together in a crisis and something like this, which is not a crisis at all, is clearly dividing or there is an intent to divide the community on such a trivial issue. “It's an important issue for us. It's not a huge issue for the country.”
His 48-year-old fiancé, who works for a travel agency, added: “The first countries that changed the law on gay marriage were Holland and Belgium and no doubt there was a more liberal climate.
“But there were conservative elements there that will always remain conservative, but society hasn't collapsed.
Mr Maertens said: “Everything continues as normal. We are not a threat to anybody. It's just a little bit of a pity that people can't be open and kind, as their religions profess to be.
“We remain law-abiding citizens, taxpayers, we buy products in everyone's stores. I was in the army. We are good civil citizens.
“In a secular state, we should have the same rights and responsibilities. We are not lesser citizens.”
The couple met a year-and-a-half ago in Queensland and decided to get married after Mr Maertens, who has dual Australian/Belgian citizenship, proposed.
They originally intended to wed in Brussels, but the paperwork proved time-consuming because documents needed translation.
Mr Whayman, who left Bermuda in 1995 but still has family here, said Mrs Justice Simmons made her ruling in the case against the Government brought by Bermudian Winston Godwin and his Canadian fiancé Greg DeRoche as the two were looking at their options.
He added: “Charles-Etta Simmons made that courageous decision; she did the right thing. I thought, if she's gone out on a limb to do that for people, we really should think about doing it there.”
He described how he encountered homophobia on the island as a young man and left because he wanted to be free to explore his sexuality.
“Mr Whayman said: “You can't do that in Bermuda - leaving was the best thing I ever did in my life, for sure.
“But there are a lot of other people who live here who won't or don't have those opportunities.”
The couple said they believed the majority of people in Bermuda did not have a strong opinion on same-sex marriage — a view borne out by last year's referendum on the issue, when less than 47 per cent of the electorate voted.
The non-binding poll revealed that 32 per cent of the electorate was against same-sex marriage and 15 per cent was in favour.
In Australia, the Government is to hold a nationwide non-binding postal vote on the issue next week, with critics describing it as a costly, divisive poll.
Mr Whayman said a “vocal minority” there and here was targeting gay people and trying to impose its religious beliefs on the whole of society.
Mr Maertens added: “It's fear and fundamentalism and not the spirit of forgiving Christianity, as I understand it.”
They couple said they hoped to encourage young gay Bermudians by talking publicly about their wedding and prompt MPs, who return to Parliament today, to think before voting on Mr Furbert's Private Member's Bill, which seeks to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples.
Mr Whayman added: “We are looking forward to tomorrow — a very auspicious day. It's so important for Roland and I to have this interview so that younger people that are coming along after us can read about us and maybe have some courage if they want to do the same thing and be free.”