HAMILTON, Bermuda (BP) — The Bermuda Legislature has outlawed same-sex marriage only months after the Bermuda Supreme Court approved such unions there, making the island the first nation to reverse gay marriage.
The Bermuda Legislature approved the Domestic Partnership Act after a public referendum in favor of traditional marriage, effectively reversing the Bermuda Supreme Court ruling of May, 2017. Bermuda Gov. John Rankin signed the act into law Feb. 7.
The new law denies marriage to same-sex couples, but gives both gay and heterosexual couples the right to enter into partnerships with certain legal rights previously held only by heterosexual married couples.
The Christian advocacy group Preserve Marriage Bermuda, which has fought since 2015 to preserve biblical marriage, praised the reversal of gay marriage on the island.
“Preserve Marriage Bermuda is thankful for the decision to reverse the law on same-sex marriage,” group chairman Melvyn Bassett told Bernews.com, a Bermuda news service. “Although Preserve Marriage does not condone any legal union which may provide legal footing for same-sex marriage, we do wish to commend the Government on being the first and only government in the world to reverse the laws on same-sex marriage.”
Bermuda, a small nation of less than 70,000, is a self-governing territory of the United Kingdom. Gay marriage remains legal elsewhere in the UK, with the exception of Northern Ireland. Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, Bermuda’s court is not the final legal authority of the land.
Bermuda will continue to recognize the handful of same-sex couples married in the few months such unions were legal there, which Bernews counted as six. Also, any overseas same-sex marriages performed when such unions were legal “will also be capable of recognition as marriages in Bermuda,” the Government of Bermuda said in a Feb. 7 press release.
Under the new law, couples in legal domestic partnerships may legally inherit a partner’s pensions, gain access to property rights and make medical decisions on behalf of a partner, the law stipulates, among other privileges.
“The Act is intended to strike a fair balance between two currently irreconcilable groups in Bermuda, by restating that marriage must be between a male and a female while at the same time recognizing and protecting the rights of same-sex couples,” the government said in a press release. “While the majority of Bermudians do not agree with same-sex marriage — as evidenced by the referendum — it is the Government’s belief that this Act addresses this position while also complying with the European Courts.”
Bermuda attorney Mark Pettingill, who successfully represented gay plaintiffs in the 2017 Bermuda Supreme Court case, told Bernews he is studying avenues of challenging the domestic partnership legislation.
“There is a constitutional position which in my assessment may warrant a legal challenge and I can indicate that this is a matter which is currently under consideration,” Bernews quoted Pettingill Feb. 8.
Preserve Marriage said it would continue to promote the importance of traditional marriage and its benefits to society.
“We are also committed to ensuring that the definition of marriage between a man and a woman remains in this country,” Bassett said. “Our aim is to continue to support families by working with other community groups that support healthy marriages and healthy families. To that end, Preserve Marriage has begun efforts to change its legal name to Preserve Marriage and Family.”
Many members of the UK’s Parliament expressed displeasure at the new law, but recognized the law’s intent to give legal status to same-sex couples.
“We are obviously disappointed about the removal of same-sex marriage in Bermuda,” Tariq Mahmood Ahmad, a conservative member of the UK House of Lords, said in a press release. “Less than a year ago, same-sex couples had no legal recognition at all under Bermudan law…. The intent of the Act is to provide domestic partners with the same benefits as married couples, including provision for pensions, inheritance, healthcare, tax and immigration.”