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Sir John to vote for same-sex marriage

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Sir John Swan will vote in favour of same-sex marriage and civil unions in next week's referendum, he declared yesterday.

The former Premier, political icon and Bermuda's 2016 national hero told The Royal Gazette that he had “evolved” since he voted against the 1994 Stubbs Bill, which struck down the island's anti-sodomy laws, and now recognised the “most important aspect of life is natural justice” for all.

“The gay issue is not an issue in my house,” Sir John said. “Everybody is the same. I have three children. They don't have a lick of reservation in supporting this measure. Nor do I. I very clearly and emphatically support the ‘yes' vote. We all should be treated equally.”

Sir John, who was Premier of Bermuda from 1982 to 1995, outlines his position in an opinion piece on page 4 of today's newspaper, explaining how he made his decision on the Stubbs Bill with his head and not his heart, but would now be voting “with my head and my heart in favour of same-sex marriage”.

His declaration comes little more than a week before referendum day on June 23, when voters will be asked to say if they are in favour of same-sex marriage and if they are in favour of civil unions. Early polling, for travellers and incapacitated voters, began yesterday at Bermuda College and will continue today and tomorrow.

Those against same-sex marriage include the campaign group Preserve Marriage.

Among opponents is Pastor Terence Stovell, of the Better Covenant Christian Fellowship, who said that he had based his personal view on the maxim of Christian author Myles Munroe that all things in life have purposes — and that “where purpose is not known, abuse is inevitable”.

Mr Stovell said he had used that concept in tandem with the idea of an original intent for humanity.

“Is the original design of male and female in line with an intent that speaks to the reason why we exist?” asked Mr Stovell, whose opinion also appears on page 4 today. “Is there a self-evident truth, and is scripture in line with that?”

Mr Stovell said the justifications for human sexual design were laid out along with the original intent for man's existence on the Earth in the book of Genesis.

“While that is not the only reason for our sexual design, it certainly is a key reason for why men and women are designed the way they are — what I would call a natural fit.”

Sir John said back in 1994, as leader of the country, that he had much sympathy with the private member's Bill tabled by John Stubbs, a member of his Cabinet, but also had sympathy with the churches, which opposed the legislation.

He revealed he told Dr Stubbs: “If it needs my vote to pass, I'll vote for it, but if it doesn't, I'll support the churches. I, as the leader, decided to support the wishes of the Church by not supporting the Bill.”

The Stubbs Bill passed by 22-16, with Progressive Labour Party leader Frederick Wade voting in favour of it. Sir John said he did not regret the way he voted then because “they were different times”.

He added: “The world has made a significant change. My ideas have evolved and I have always believed in natural human justice, but then I felt as though the Church was a major institution in our society that you just couldn't ignore. I have evolved and recognised that the most important aspect of life is natural justice.

“Through my experiences with my own children, who have a number of friends who are gay, and my own experiences, as I have gay friends who are contemporaries, there is a whole encompassing of my relationship with the gay community. I never could see myself as doing something that would curtail their right[s].”

The former United Bermuda Party leader said that he had a safe seat in Paget in 1994 and made his decision to vote against the Stubbs Bill not for personal political gain, but for the “interests of the country”. He said: “I always wanted to hold the country together. I voted last time with my head. I made a calculated decision to try to hold on to the institutions of our community, at the same time knowing that the Bill was going to get through Parliament.

“I had a split personality in the process. I don't have a split personality now; I have a very definitive personality. That's the way Bermuda was at the time. People evolve. We have all evolved.

“I am no longer the leader [of the country] and I'm doing something that, in all good conscience, maybe I should have done then. The fact that I did something 30 years ago doesn't mean I should do it today.”

He said Bermudians would have to exercise their conscience next week. “It's an individual decision,” he said.

“I would ask them to step back and think what would happen to their children and grandchildren if they were in the same boat. Nature does not promise us a straight line.

“There are deviations in nature, as in anything else.

“What you have to decide is: what is the message I'm giving to my children or my grandchildren or my relatives or friends or their children.

“Should we not all, in the eyes of God, be treated like his children?”

Asked how the result of the ballot might reflect on Bermuda elsewhere in the world, Sir John said: “A vote of conscience is right for the individuals and, therefore, right for Bermuda. We can't put the emphasis just on what the outside world sees. Let's take a look at ourselves.”

The run-up to the referendum has given birth to the emergence of two campaigns: Preserve Marriage's call for the electorate to vote “no” to both questions and campaigners such as Tony Brannon and Shari-Lynn Pringle urging a “yes” vote. Michael Dunkley, the Premier, has said he would vote yes to civil unions, but few other politicians have stated their position.

Marc Bean, the Leader of the Opposition, has voiced his opposition to same-sex marriage in the past, but he has been on medical leave since March and has not revealed how he will vote.

On occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on what we consider to be a controversial or contentious story. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

Advance polling stations are open at the Bermuda College (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published June 15, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 16, 2016 at 2:57 pm)

Sir John to vote for same-sex marriage

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