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British MPs set to debate SSM ban

Bermuda's controversial move to ban same-sex marriage is to be debated by British politicians.

Labour MP Chris Bryant has asked for an adjournment debate on the subject, which will take place at the end of Monday's session in the House of Commons.

The news came as the Bermuda Government waits on a decision by John Rankin, the Governor, on the Domestic Partnership Act 2017.

The legislation, designed to replace same-sex marriage with civil unions, was passed by MPs last month, but Mr Rankin has yet to give it Royal Assent and sign it into law.

Former attorney-general Mark Pettingill said yesterday that, from a constitutional perspective, it was “appropriate” and “proper” for the UK debate to take place.

He added he hoped it would lead to a “consensus in the British Parliament that surely has to carry some weight”.

Political commentator Charles Jeffers said Britain should stay out of the internal affairs of a self-governing territory, even if it remained under UK sovereignty.

Mr Jeffers said he doubted if the debate was “going to go anywhere”.

He added: “To me, it's the fact that they have the audacity to discuss it, to even bring it up. It's nothing but irritating.”

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Bermuda since the Supreme Court ruled in May last year that it was discriminatory to deny gay couples the right to wed.

The judgment was the result of a lawsuit brought by gay couple Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche against the Registrar-General's decision to refuse to post their wedding banns.

The Progressive Labour Party, in its General Election manifesto, underlined its opposition to gay marriage, but pledged to introduce legislation to give same-sex couples “similar legal benefits as heterosexual couples”.

Walton Brown. the Minister of Home Affairs, tabled the Domestic Partnership Bill after the party's election win last summer and it was approved by both the House of Assembly and the Senate in December.

The move sparked international headlines and overseas media reported that Bermuda would become the first country in the world to reverse marriage equality.

Mr Bryant, a former Church of England priest who entered into a civil union with his same-sex partner in 2010, raised the Bermuda decision in the House of Commons earlier this month and told MPs the island was taking an “entirely retrograde step”.

He called on Boris Johnson, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, to “make sure that the Government tells the Bermudian (Parliament very firmly ‘no way, we are sticking with same-sex marriage'.”

Mr Jeffers, who said he opposed same-sex marriage but saw the Domestic Partnership Act as a suitable “compromise”, said he was not surprised the Westminster debate was to happen but that he was against it.

He said: “Bermuda is a self-governing country. Britain has enough of their own problems to deal with.

“Why in the world do they feel the need to get involved in Bermuda's internal situations?”

Mr Jeffers added Britain's House of Lords last week debated — and rejected — legislation designed to force Bermuda and other overseas territories to make their registers of beneficial ownership of companies public.

He asked: “How much of this should we take?”

Mr Jeffers said: “Britain does not financially assist us. It seems to me that whether they realise it or not, they are trying to say to these countries [the British Overseas Territories] that ‘we really don't want you'.”

Former One Bermuda Alliance MP Mr Pettingill, who represented Mr Godwin and Mr DeRoche in their civil case, said: “Not only am I not surprised, I'm very pleased to see that the debate is being taken up at the highest level in Parliament in England.

“It's not only a matter of interest in Bermuda but, because of the aspects of our Constitution as they relate to assent and because of the international obligations to human rights that exist in the United Kingdom, it naturally becomes a public interest issue in the United Kingdom.

“I think it's fair enough, I think it's appropriate, I think it's proper. That's a constitutional view and what our Constitution dictates.”

He added that he expected Mr Rankin to delay his decision on the legislation until after the debate.

Mr Pettingill said: “He's well entitled to sit on it. The Constitution allows him to do that. I'm sure he's waiting for full consideration from the perspective of UK law and Parliament.”

A Government House spokesman confirmed yesterday that the Bill was still under consideration by Mr Rankin.

Home affairs minister Mr Brown declined to comment.

Seeking debate: Labour MP Chris Bryant

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Published January 24, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated January 24, 2018 at 4:26 pm)

British MPs set to debate SSM ban

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