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British MP at odds with island’s SSM fears

Bermuda ties: Michael and Gillian Keegan

A British MP with family ties to Bermuda has called on the island to tackle its fears over same-sex marriage and give gay couples the right to marry.

Gillian Keegan, whose husband, Michael, is descended from the Gosling rum family, told The Royal Gazette the United Kingdom should not have to force Bermuda to introduce marriage equality, in line with a recommendation in a report from the British parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee.

Ms Keegan, Conservative MP for Chichester and parliamentary private secretary to the Ministry of Defence, said: “I think Bermuda is better than that.”

She raised Bermuda’s record on same-sex marriage in the House of Commons this month in a debate on the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.

Ms Keegan told MPs: “Our country is a leader in the world, much respected for our influence and the example we set. I am proud that it was a Conservative prime minister who put same-sex marriage on the statute book, but, as many colleagues have said, there is much to be done in the wider Commonwealth countries.

“I was particularly disappointed to see what was happening in Bermuda, which still seems to have a problem with LGBT rights. I mention Bermuda as my husband is the grandson of a Gosling, a very well-known Bermudian family, famous for Gosling’s rum.”

She added: “One would think that a wealthy and important British overseas territory would take a more enlightened and tolerant approach, and I call on it to do so.”

Bermuda’s Supreme Court ruled in May 2017 that gay couples could marry but six months later the Government passed the Domestic Partnership Act, outlawing same-sex weddings.

A legal challenge was brought against the Act and then Chief Justice Ian Kawaley ruled in June last year that the parts of the legislation that restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples were against the Constitution.

The Court of Appeal upheld his decision in November and same-sex marriages were once again allowed to take place.

But the Government has said it would appeal to the Privy Council in London.

Walter Roban, the home affairs minister, said the case was important to Bermuda’s people and the Government wanted to go to the highest court of appeal to “get it right”.

Ms Keegan said in a phone interview that she and her husband, whose grandmother Armine Gosling was Bermudian, visited Bermuda fairly regularly but had only recently discovered, through research on LGBT rights, how the island had seesawed on the question.

She added: “Both of us are very concerned about LGBT rights. My husband’s two brothers were gay. We have a sort of natural interest.

“During our research, we were very disappointed to see that in Bermuda they passed an Act to remove the right of same-sex couples to marry.

“It surprised us, from what we knew about Bermuda. We thought it would be a little bit more enlightened than that.”

Ms Keegan said: “We were surprised to see Bermuda on the list of countries that were taking regressive steps.”

She added that Britain did not issue “diktats” to its Overseas Territories on a regular basis and should not necessarily force Bermuda’s hand on the question.

But she added: “I think it should definitely be encouraged. It’s a very important human right. I think it would be a shame if the OTs didn’t move into the 21st century.”

Same-sex marriage has been allowed in most of the UK since 2014, but not in Northern Ireland, which has civil partnerships that offer many of, but not all, the rights of marriage.

Ms Keegan said she had spoken to many voters at the time, including Conservatives and Christians, who were “very fearful” of the change but who now accepted that “it hasn’t had any impact on their lives at all”.

She added: “It hasn’t devalued marriage.”

Ms Keegan said there should be a “breaking down of barriers” in Bermuda so an honest and open discussion could be held on why sections of Bermudian society feared same-sex marriage.

She added the status quo was “not ideal” because Bermuda was now seen around the world as a regressive jurisdiction on marriage equality.

Ms Keegan said: “I think they need to clarify the law. I think it’s important that it’s enshrined in law, the right to love.”

The Ministry of Home Affairs did not respond to questions on the status of its Privy Council appeal.