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Bermuda in world spotlight after SSM reversal

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Bermuda's controversial repeal of same-sex marriage captured global headlines yesterday.

Most overseas media highlighted the country as the world's first to reverse same-sex marriage.

The decision also sparked an urgent question in the House of Commons in London from Labour Opposition MP Chris Bryant.

Home affairs minister Walton Brown's view that the Domestic Partnership Act was “intended to strike a fair balance between two currently irreconcilable groups in Bermuda” was quoted around the world.

The Domestic Partnership Act 2017 was granted assent on Wednesday by John Rankin, the Governor, which turned the international spotlight on the island.

The BBC reported that Mr Bryant said that the reversal made Britain a “laughing stock in the international human rights field”.

James Landale, diplomatic correspondent for the BBC, added the move would undermine Britain's efforts to “promote LGBT rights around the world when it has failed to do so in one of its own overseas territories”.

CNN's coverage included Human Rights Campaign Global, an American civil rights group, which criticised the decision.

HRCG warned the legislation “jeopardises Bermuda's international reputation and economy”.

Also carried was a statement from the Rainbow Alliance of Bermuda, which painted domestic partnerships as a “watered-down” version of human rights.

The group said the reversal had been done to “placate conservative religious lobbyists”.

The alliance added that gay visitors would “refuse to travel to a place where they are seen as second-class citizens”.

The Daily Mail highlighted that couples of the same gender had been allowed to marry since May 2017, although it added that “after a recent referendum, a law has been put into force to only allow domestic partnerships”.

Fewer than 50 per cent of registered voters came out to the polls for the June 2016 referendum, which meant it lacked the required numbers for the questions on marriage and domestic partnerships to be “answered”.

Comments on the Daily Mail article were mostly critical.

“Bermuda girl”, from Sydney, Australia, wrote: “Embarrassed to be Bermudian.”

The Guardian quoted Joe Gibbons, a 64-year-old married gay Bermudian, who said he felt “enormously disappointed”.

Mr Gibbons told the newspaper: “This is not equality, and the British Government has obviously just said, ‘This is not our fight.'”

The Advocate, a monthly LGBT magazine in the United States, quoted Mr Brown's statement and included condemnation from Sarah Kate Ellis, president and chief executive of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

Ms Ellis said Bermuda's move had earned the island a “shameful recognition”.

British Labour MP David Lammy, a former minister in the last Labour government and one of the most prominent black lawmakers in Britain, told the House of Commons: “The first slaves were brought to Bermuda in 1620: oppressed, segregated and discriminated against.

“That is why leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Barack Obama have fought not just for race rights, but the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people. This country has been one of the world leaders on this subject, so if this is not the issue on which to refuse assent, I do not know what is.

“The minister has come to the Despatch Box and, frankly, I can see the discomfort on her face.”

Mr Lammy asked: “Can she get into the detail, or ask the Secretary of State to get into the detail, of the discussions with the Bermudian Government and what our representations entail? Can she at least put them in the House of Commons Library? It is a shame that we stand on the wrong side of human rights in Parliament this morning.”

Labour colleague Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a Brighton MP, asked: “Will we consider the self-determination, the phrase the minister uses, of LGBT people in our territories and stop going on about the self-determination of some usually rich elected politicians, far up in their ivory towers in their islands, who do not represent a lot of the minorities on their islands who we need to stand up for today?”

Nigel Huddleston, Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire, said he respected the rights of overseas territories to make their own laws, but asked Harriet Baldwin, the junior minister at the Department for International Development, to convey to the Bermuda Government “discomfort with the decision among members on both sides of this Chamber”.

The withdrawal of same-sex marriage also sparked comment on social media, with the hashtag #BoycottBermuda circulating on Twitter.

One user posted: “Hey @Bermuda there are a lot of other places my husband and I can spend our money. Thanks for letting us know we're not welcome before we scheduled our vacation plans.”

Tourism site Bermuda.com yesterday reported cancellations, including one person who wrote: “Won't be coming back. This move is calculated to spread hate and to force people to conform to one set of religious beliefs. Why would I take my hard-earned money to visit an area so repressive? Easy answer. I won't.”

Another wrote that they were “joining the #neverbermuda campaign”.

The poster said they had cancelled a trip scheduled for March along with 11 friends and would instead travel to the Florida Keys.

The poster added: “Encouraging all of our wealthy friends to do the same. Bermuda is obviously a bigoted country that doesn't deserve our money.”

A third writer posted on the site that they “used to love coming to visit your beautiful country”.

The post said: “The beauty ends with your terrain.”

In Ireland, which legalised same-sex marriage in 2015 through a referendum, The Irish Times carried the Associated Press report on Bermuda's decision.

Question time: Labour MP David Lammy, pictured visiting Bermuda, said in a speech yesterday that the British Parliament “stands on the wrong side of human rights” (File photograph)
Labour MP Chris Bryant

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Published February 09, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated February 09, 2018 at 7:05 am)

Bermuda in world spotlight after SSM reversal

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