‘Same-sex vote is people’s will’
Same-sex relationships dominated a live online chat between Michael Dunkley and readers of The Royal Gazette yesterday.
The Premier took part in a question-and-answer session for an hour at the temporary Cabinet Office on Reid Street, fielding questions mainly on today's referendum on same-sex marriage and civil unions.
He revealed he would vote no on the question of whether he is in favour of same-sex marriage and yes to civil unions.
And he appeared to admit that if today's referendum resulted in a majority of voters answering no to both questions, the Bermuda Government would shelve its draft civil union Bill.
One reader asked him: “What do you see as the plan going forward after the referendum, if there is a resounding answer either yes or no? It would be helpful to understand what the true end game of this process is.”
Mr Dunkley replied: “It is premature to speculate before the people have had an opportunity to vote. However, any outcome is the will of the people and will guide their elected officials accordingly.
“As we have said in the town hall meeting[s], if there is a 'no' vote it will potentially open up challenges in the courts and the courts will ultimately decide.”
Asked if a “no, no” outcome would trigger a constitutional crisis, as claimed this month by the Centre for Justice, Mr Dunkley said: “I don't see it that way but it will leave it open for individuals to take their case to the courts.”
One reader referred to Sir John Swan's comments last week on how he voted against the Stubbs Bill in 1994 but was now in support of same-sex marriage and civil unions.
The reader said: “Clearly, he was on the wrong side of history [in 1994].
“What role does moral courage play in leadership?
“Do you have the moral courage to lead the country and your party on this issue?”
Mr Dunkley said: “I would suggest that Sir John's views have evolved on this matter over time. Sir John is not the first leader to have the 'sands shift' over time. Mine have as well, to support civil unions.”
The Premier, asked to expand on why he will vote “no, yes”, said only: “Quite simply, I believe in civil unions and I view traditional marriage between a man and a woman.”
He was asked to explain the difference between civil unions and marriages under the draft civil union legislation tabled in Parliament in February by Cabinet minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin.
The Premier replied: “The Government has engaged in a full education campaign regarding same-sex relationships. In my opinion civil unions confer all the rights of traditional marriage.”
Mr Dunkley was also quizzed about whether he planned to proceed with the proposed Matrimonial Causes Amendment Act, which is on the order paper of the House of Assembly.
If approved, the legislation would mean that the Human Rights Act no longer had supremacy over a specific section of the Matrimonial Causes Act, which restricts marriages to heterosexual couples.
It would allow discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in relation to marriage.
One reader told the Premier: “I am deeply concerned about the proposed legislation giving the Matrimonial Causes Act primacy over the Human Rights Act.
“This will set a dangerous precedent; what other ad hoc exceptions to human rights shall we come up with? Is a vote for civil unions a vote for this legislation?”
The Premier replied: “I disagree with your assessment.”
He encouraged all registered voters to participate in today's non-binding vote but would not discuss what would happen once the result was known.
Asked whether same-sex marriage would be introduced in law if the referendum showed a majority in favour of it, he said: “It's premature to speculate before people have an opportunity to participate.”
Other questions touched on the Civil Service, gang violence and overgrown trees.
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