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‘A matter of social justice’

On Thursday, the people of Bermuda will go to the polls for the referendum on same-sex marriage and same-sex civil unions.

Jonathan Bell and Sam Strangeways spoke to residents on either side of the

debate to find out why they will be voting “yes” or “no”.

Voting “yes” on both same-sex marriage and civil unions is strictly a rights issue for advocates who shared their views with The Royal Gazette.

Ravi Pachai, Steven Boyce and Chen Foley accept that participating in a referendum on rights will not be easy for many voters.

“The compromise is you can be sensitive to the religious community by voting ‘yes' for civil unions,” Mr Foley said.

“But you can also recognise that full equality is a good thing, by voting ‘yes' for marriage equality.”

The issue, he said, boils down to “family rights, such as people being able to visit their partners in hospital, rights to inherit property, applications for widowers' pensions”.

Added Mr Pachai: “We want members of the LGBT community to be able to live with dignity and legal recognition.”

Mr Pachai said he understood why people were uncomfortable and said a new group, OUTBermuda, would be formally announcing its launch after the referendum to help to facilitate urgently needed conversation.

That conversation “has to be done”, Mr Boyce said: “There's still work to be done in Bermuda in making it a safer and more welcoming place.”

The group emerged, they said, out of the Bermuda Bred Company immigration case for same-sex couples — so called because it was brought to the courts by people born and raised on the island.

OUTBermuda, Mr Foley stressed, is a new charity still finding its feet, and keen not to be overshadowed by the referendum itself — but the three support a “yes, yes” vote.

Former City Hall councillor Kathryn Gibbons is also a supporter, informed by the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“Social customs and mores evolve in a democratic society,” she said. “It takes time and many protests.”

Ms Gibbons maintained that same-sex marriage issues “are really a matter of social justice and equal rights”, and called it “grossly unjust” to deny same-sex couples the same benefits heterosexual spouses enjoy.

Zakiya Johnson Lord, a Bermudian who lives in New York, has been helping to co-ordinate the “yes, yes” campaign from there.

She is gay, married and she and her wife have a son. She worked at the Human Rights Commission and Centre for Justice when she lived in Bermuda and is on the board of directors of OUTBermuda.

Bermuda's legal framework and absence of options contributed to her move overseas, she said.

“I was married since 2011 but my marriage isn't recognised there in a way that would provide stability and comfort,” she said. “I would say that our options are far more limited based on my sexual orientation.” She added: “It's quite frustrating. If I could vote, I would fly home to do so. But because I live overseas I'm not technically supposed to vote so I won't.

“It [the referendum] does impact my life. It's a civic duty to take part. It directly affects my life and the lives of those I care about.”

Ms Johnson Lord added that the lack of recognition for her marriage meant she could be faced with a choice in the future of caring for her mother, who is on the island, or for her son.

“That's the reality. My wife can't come and my son isn't Bermudian,” she said. “I would have to choose between who I would care for and my straight friends don't have to do that. That's important.”

• 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

For and against: residents in favour of and opposed to same-sex marriage take part in a demonstration at the Cabinet building in February (File photograph)

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Published June 21, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 21, 2016 at 9:50 am)

‘A matter of social justice’

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