Domestic Partnership Bill passed in Senate
Legislation designed to replace same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships was backed last night by senators.
Only One Bermuda Alliance senators Andrew Simons, Justin Mathias and Nandi Outerbridge spoke against the Domestic Partnership Act as the legislation was debated in the Upper Chamber.
All five Progressive Labour Party senators supported the Bill and independent senators James Jardine and Michelle Simmons also backed it.
Despite objections to the Bill from the Opposition, it passed by a vote of 8-3 with the backing of all three independent senators.
MPs voted 24-10 in favour of the Bill last Friday after it was criticised by opponents as a backward step in the wake of a Supreme Court judgment in May, which paved the way for same-sex marriage in Bermuda.
OBA senator Andrew Simons said during the Upper House debate that the issue was “bigger than politics”.
He added the Bill was “an affront to people's dignity”.
Mr Simons said: “As human beings we should have the ability to enter into a marriage between two people who love each other and this relationship should be recognised by the state.
“This is the last chance to defend something. If we accept this Bill in this House, then we are taking rights away from people.”
Mr Simons branded the Bill “unnecessary legislation” and urged the Senate to use its power to delay it so “Bermuda as a country can grow”.
PLP senator Vance Campbell said he supported the Bill and that it was in line with the party's election platform.
Government Senate Leader Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General, added that the Bill reflected “the majority sentiment”.
She said: “This minister [home affairs minister Walton Brown] has taken the balanced approach to governance. We have a Bill that gives rights to the minority, it also protects the interests of the majority.” Ms Simmons described the Bill as “very correct and very supportable”.
Independent senator James Jardine also backed the Bill.
He said: “I think in this Bill one relationship is being called something different — but both are getting the same rights and benefits.
“This Bill also provides the formal legal framework for heterosexual couples who do not wish to marry.”
Mr Jardine highlighted that almost 70 per cent of those who voted in a referendum on same-sex marriage were against it.
He said: “I don't believe we can ignore that statistic.”
Mr Jardine added: “This Bill is not perfect and some are not pleased from many points of view. It does attempt to address the different needs of a small community.
“I hope in a very short period of time the views of the broader community will change.”
Fellow independent senator Michelle Simmons described the Bill as the “middle ground”.
She added: “There is far too much resistance to same-sex marriage for us to ignore the wishes of the majority.
“Bermuda is not ready at all to accept same-sex marriage.”
But Opposition Senate Leader Nandi Outerbridge said the Bill was “cherry-picking discrimination”.
She added: “This Bill in its simplest forms strips away rights from human beings.
“We will be the first country that will reverse marriage equality. Everyone should have the right to a contracted marriage. No one is speaking about protecting the minorities.”
OBA senator Justin Mathias branded the Act “a rushed Bill” and said it was a sad day for human rights in Bermuda.
He added: “We are about to take away rights from a minority group within this country.
“We have created a second-class citizen and it is disheartening.”
And he predicted: “History will mark this day.”
PLP senator Jason Hayward said the Bill clarified the law in relation to marriage and represented political leadership.
He added: “We are not in the dark ages; we are in a position similar to the majority of the rest of the world on this issue.
“With this new Bill we progress beyond many of our neighbours. It is the best solution to the country's dilemma.”
Fellow government senator Crystal Caesar backed the Bill.
Ms Caesar said: “Society largely does not support same-sex marriage, nor is it prepared to accept it at this time.”
Mr Brown, who introduced the Bill in the House of Assembly, earlier said it would provide same-sex couples with legal rights but prevent any further same-sex marriages.
He also confirmed that the legislation would not have a retroactive affect on same-sex marriages celebrated after the Supreme Court ruling in the Godwin and DeRoche case against the Registrar-General.
Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons in that case 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”.
Mark Pettingill, a former OBA attorney-general who appeared in court for Mr Godwin and Mr DeRoche, said last night: “It goes without saying that in my view the watering-down of any human right is fundamentally wrong.
“I find it very disheartening that in this day and age we have taken this approach to same-sex marriage.
“I find it most disappointing that the independent senators, particularly, seemingly failed to understand what a minority rights issue is.”
Mr Pettingill added: “The appalling, illogical approach of the independent senators that the majority of Bermudians are not ‘ready for this' is shocking.
“That type of approach would never have brought about success in the Civil Rights Movement and the analogy is entirely appropriate, as you simply cannot cherry-pick on discrimination.
“Every human being is entitled to exactly the same right as every other human being and that must include the right to a contractual marriage at the registry.
“I believe strongly that there is a valid constitutional issue to be raised here and I'm hoping that some couple will find the courage to take this up — in which case the fight for marriage equality may well not be over.”
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