Domestic partnerships not inferior to marriage, says Roban
The Government will take legal advice before any decision is announced on whether same-sex marriages that have already happened will be voided, the Minister of Home Affairs said.
Walter Roban insisted yesterday that the Domestic Partnership Act, which confined marriage to between a man and a woman, provided the same rights as the more traditional institution.
He was speaking after the Privy Council sided with the Government in its efforts to halt same-sex marriage.
The minister said: “We are reviewing the judgment and we will consider what steps will be taken to normalise the legislation if needed, and we will listen to our legal advisers and chambers as to what steps should be taken.”
Mr Roban, who is also the Deputy Premier, added that the Privy Council — the island’s highest court of appeal — was the “last court of resort”.
Asked if any consideration would be given to amendments to the DPA, he said: “At this point, not until we have a chance to talk to our legal advisers, chambers, the lawyers and other advisers on these matters."
The Government revealed last month that $411,627 was spent on outside lawyers and law firms on the various same-sex marriage court cases.
Mr Roban said he did not think that domestic partnerships were inferior to marriage.
He said: “What I do believe is that the Domestic Partnership Act affords the same equal rights and privileges for persons who enter into domestic partnership who are same sex or who are not same sex, [as] for those who wish to choose the institution of marriage.
“It creates a same legal support obligation for their union.
“They have equal rights, they have equal opportunity. It’s the label that’s different.”
Privy Council judges found four to one in favour of the Government’s appeal against a Court of Appeal ruling that a section of the DPA was included for a religious purpose, which was barred under Bermuda’s secular Constitution.
Mr Roban said in a statement: “The Government is pleased with the outcome of the appeal. However, I must reiterate that the Government is here to support all citizens. There are people in Bermuda who support same-sex marriage, and there are people in Bermuda that do not.
“What must be understood is that I, as the minister responsible, support every person.
“I upheld and respected the rule of law and continued to support the courts when they saw fit to make allowances for same-sex marriage.
“The Domestic Partnership Act 2018 gave all couples the same rights under the law.
“Today's judgment of the Privy Council cements the position supported by Bermuda's electorate as lawful.
“We move forward recognising that Bermuda was the first country in the English-speaking Caribbean that legislated full rights for same-sex couples. It was the correct decision, and we stand by it.”
He added later: "I am satisfied that we have the best legal option for right now for this issue and that we will, perhaps in time, maybe in the future, other leaders of the country will look at it differently.“
Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Reform, said: “The Government is pleased with the outcome of the appeal, which confirms that Section 53 of the Domestic Partnership Act 2018 does not infringe the constitutional rights of the respondents in the appeal.
“The Government will now take time to consider the full judgment and its impact.”
In a statement this afternoon, One Bermuda Alliance leader Cole Simons said: “The One Bermuda Alliance was surprised by today’s decision by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.
“Here we are in 2022 and we are still lagging when it comes to protecting the rights of same-sex couples.
“The UK court’s decision means the legality of same-sex marriage is firmly a matter for the elected members of Parliament to decide upon. At present, Bermuda's laws do not impose on our state an obligation to give legal recognition to same-sex marriage.
“Our Constitution does not protect individuals against discrimination based on sexual orientation, even though they are protected against discrimination based on race, place of origin, political opinion, colour and creed.
“The One Bermuda Alliance supports the comments previously made by Lord Pannick, QC that Bermuda is a multicultural country with people of different beliefs and it would be unconstitutional for the Government to create a hierarchy of beliefs by showing preference.
“We would like to express our empathy for the appellants, Mr Ferguson, OutBermuda, Mary Ellen Jackson and others, as surely they must feel that their desire for marriage equality has yet again been stymied. This needs to be addressed by the Government and Parliament as we are one Bermuda.
“There are those beyond our shores who will be undoubtedly paying close attention to this judicial outcome in London.”