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Civil unions will not end debate

The debate on same-sex marriage will not end with the passing of the Domestic Partnership Act, according to a British academic.

Nicola Barker said of the Bill: “I don't see this as being the end of the story.”

The controversial Act was passed in the House of Assembly on Friday night and will now go to the Senate for approval before Christmas.

But Dr Barker, who has lectured in Bermuda on the subject of same-sex relationships, warned if successful it could create a “confusing” situation.

She explained: “You'll have some same-sex couples that remain married — and rightly so — and then you'll have other same-sex couples who can only get a domestic partnership.

“And what is the basis for the distinction between those two couples? I can't really see a rational basis for that.” Dr Barker said she assumed that domestic partnerships would be expected to be viewed as the same as marriages.

The difficulty, she said, would arise if the two relationships were treated differently.

Dr Barker added: “Then you're likely to end up with cases back in court disputing that, and probably a lot of time and money spent on lawyers.”

Dr Barker, a reader in law at the University of Kent who has published extensively on same-sex marriage, wrote an opinion piece on the Domestic Partnership Act for The Royal Gazette.

In 2013, she gave a lecture at Bermuda College on the Church of England's response to the passage of same-sex marriage in the UK. She also spoke at the Human Rights Emancipation Conference organised by the Centre for Justice in 2014.

She told the Gazette that the island would set a precedent if the Bill becomes law.

She explained: “Bermuda will be the only country to have abolished, or partly abolish, same-sex marriage, which I'm not sure is a distinction you necessarily want.”

Preserve Marriage, which has campaigned against same-sex marriage, has pointed to rulings made by the European Court of Human Rights — established by the European Convention on Human Rights — that same-sex marriage is not a human right.

Dr Barker said the organisation was being “optimistic” stating that the Convention doesn't recognise same-sex marriage.

She explained: “They're correct, in the sense that at the moment it doesn't.”

However, she warned that the Convention does evolve.

She added: “We've seen that on every single socially contentious issue.”

Dr Barker said that up until recently the Convention did not require that same-sex couples be treated as family members. The same happened initially with respect to rights for transsexuals.

She added: “Where there are these contentious issues, the court is very conservative, in the sense that they don't want to push states too quickly.

“But as a consensus starts to emerge, they do evolve their position. And we are starting to see that already. I would give it maybe five to ten years before the European Court says we have to stop discriminating against same-sex couples.”

Dr Barker said she felt that other priorities identified by the Government, including tackling racial and economic inequality, were “much more worthwhile” than fighting same-sex marriage.

She added: “Ultimately, they are paddling against the current, so to speak.”

British academic Nicola Barker

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Published December 11, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated December 11, 2017 at 12:40 pm)

Civil unions will not end debate

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