Should Britain Intervene to Protect Marriage Equality in Bermuda?

Bermuda recently passed legislation that would downgrade same-sex marriages to domestic partnerships, disappointing LGBT rights advocates and putting Britain in a tricky position. 

In May of 2017, a Supreme Court ruling legalized marriage equality in Bermuda. Legal action by Bermuda native Winston Godwin and his Canadian then-fiance Greg DeRoche argued that, under the country’s Human Rights Act, the existing ban on same-gender marriage unlawfully discriminated against them because it specifically disfavored their relationship for no recognizable compelling reason.

The court agreed and granted Godwin and DeRoche the ability to obtain a marriage license, establishing a new legal precedent.

However, the conservative Progressive Labour Party vowed to undo that ruling.

Citing a previous public referendum that rejected marriage equality — though that vote was non-binding and had a low turn-out– the party has instead pushed the Domestic Partnership Act of 2017. This legislation will allow same-gender couples many of the rights of marriage, but not the institution of marriage itself. Those who have already married will continue to have their partnerships recognized.

Despite widespread criticism, the Domestic Partnership Act sailed through the House in a 24-10 vote, and garnered a 8-3 vote last week in the Senate. The legislation is now all but certain to pass without amendment and will shortly be signed into law.

But technically, the UK still oversees Bermuda’s laws — and at least one British MP believes the UK should act.

Should Britain intervene?

Standing before the British Parliament on Saturday, December 16, Labour MP Chris Bryant stated, ”A British citizen, regardless of what part of Britain they’re from, should have the same rights.”

Bryant argues that because marriage equality is law in the UK and Bermuda citizens are technically British, those rights should be safeguarded. And that may be particularly compelling given the earlier Supreme Court ruling.

LGBT rights advocates believe that Bermuda’s British Governor to Bermuda, John Rankin, can and should use his authority to veto the legislation. That said, the UK’s authority is viewed as largely symbolic, and Bermuda, as an island territory, has significant autonomy from the UK.

A Foreign Office spokesperson explained:

The UK Government is a proud supporter of LGBT rights and continues to support same-sex marriage. While the UK Government is disappointed with the implications of this bill, this is a matter for the Bermuda government acting within the terms of the Bermuda constitution and in accordance with international law.

Essentially, this statement suggests that while Britain itself backs marriage equality, Bermuda’s government has the right not to. Indeed, Bermuda lawmakers have made no secret of the fact that they would’ve preferred a ban on all same-gender partnerships entirely.

While this is a complicated situation, it seems clear that this downgrading to domestic partnerships is blatantly discriminatory and injurious. Bermuda’s LGBT citizens deserve the rights they are guaranteed under the Human Rights Act.

However, some compelling reasons may prevent the UK from intervening. The UK has a long and tawdry reputation for empire building and stepping in on this issue could infringe on Bermuda’s autonomy, as well as that of other devolved territories.

Obviously, those concerns do not help Bermuda’s LGBT citizens who now face a protracted legal battle to have their fundamental rights recognized.

Photo Credit: nathanmac87/Flickr

56 comments

Jim V
Jim V2 months ago

thanks

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Jim V
Jim V2 months ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S2 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Jerome S
Jerome S2 months ago

thanks for sharing

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heather g
heather g2 months ago

Their British Governor has a job to do.

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Jaime J
Jaime J3 months ago

Thank you!!

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Paulo R
Paulo R3 months ago

ty

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Angela J
Angela J3 months ago

Thank you.

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara3 months ago

not sure what UK had to do with this

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara3 months ago

th

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