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MP Brown criticises referendum budget

The budget for the referendum would have been better spent on “trying to come to terms with the inevitable court decision” looming for same-sex unions, according to Opposition member Walton Brown.

“As a pollster, I could have spent less than 10 per cent of its budget to find out what the public thinks,” said the Progressive Labour Party MP. “With this, we didn't get the real public sentiment, because we had less than 50 per cent of the voters.”

The LGBT group Rainbow Alliance has cited a likely $350,000 price tag for Thursday's referendum, in which just under 47 per cent of voters took part.

Saying he could have delivered an accurate survey on a budget of $12,000, Mr Brown added that his own polls had shown support for civil unions.

He believed Thursday's voters failed to turn out in decisive numbers because “they felt it was inherently inappropriate to put minority rights to a referendum”.

That, combined with its non-binding caveat, plus “inadequate campaigning by those who wanted to create a more just Bermuda”, and “serious misconceptions about what was proposed”, resulted in a referendum with too few voters to obtain legitimate answers to the two questions posed.

Asked if he felt the One Bermuda Alliance had been quietly banking on a “yes” vote for civil unions, Mr Brown said the OBA as a party had been divided on the issue.

While some voting regions showed hope for civil unions, at the end of the referendum the count closed with 13,003 against and 7,626 in favour. Same-sex marriage fared worse, at 14,192 to 6,514.

“The courts will have to decide about the need for a legal framework for same-sex couples and how they should be recognised by law,” Mr Brown said.

“That is going to be required or forced on us.”

Meanwhile, lawyer Peter Sanderson said the referendum had done nothing to remove the legal requirement for equality.

The questions were put to the public after the Supreme Court found that the Government was required by the Human Rights Act to provide the same rights to permanent same-sex partners of Bermudians as those offered to opposite-sex spouses of Bermudians.

Government did not appeal the ruling, but requested a period of time to implement the required legislative changes. That period ended earlier this year.

Mr Sanderson, who represented the Bermuda Bred Company in that case, said yesterday: “The marriage referendum does not affect in any way the government's obligations as set out in the Bermuda Bred ruling.

“These obligations are to treat a permanent same-sex partner of a Bermudian equally to the spouse of a Bermudian in terms of work and residency rights.”

The comments echo those of Trevor Moniz, the Attorney-General, who stated earlier this month that regardless of the referendum, the government is obliged to find some form of legal foundation to accommodate same-sex couples who are in permanent relationships.

Mr Sanderson also said that Britain's vote to leave the European Union would not impact Bermuda's obligation to follow the European Convention on Human Rights, saying the two are entirely separate.

“Even if the UK does eventually leave the EU, it will still be a member of the European Convention on Human Rights unless it separately chooses to come out of that as well.”

To see a graphic explaining how each of the island's regions voted, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”.

PLP's Walton Brown

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Published June 25, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 25, 2016 at 11:55 am)

MP Brown criticises referendum budget

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