The British territory of Bermuda has just rolled back marriage equality. New laws signed by Bermuda governor John Rankin Wednesday have replaced same-sex marriages with domestic partnerships. Minister of Home Affairs Walton Brown said the change was made in an effort to maintain protection for same-sex couples while easing opposition against same-sex marriage.
“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,” Brown said.
Bermuda, which just legalized same-sex marriage in May 2017, will still recognize the half a dozen marriages that took place between then and yesterday's repeal. Brown issued a statement indicating that the new domestic partnerships would have "equivalent" rights to married heterosexual couples, including the right to make medical decisions on behalf of one’s partner. But that isn't enough for LGBTQ citizens and groups who are calling this a violation of civil rights.
“I feel enormously disappointed,” 64-year-old married gay Bermudian Joe Gibbons told The Telegraph. “This is not equality, and the British government has obviously just said, ‘This is not our fight.’”
The UK as a whole has a complicated relationship to the issue. Marriage equality was passed in 2014 for England, Wales, and Scotland, but same-sex marriage is not performed or recognized in Northern Ireland. Across the UK, civil partnerships, which were originally introduced in 2004 to offer similar rights to same-sex couples, are being reevaluated—the government is discussing whether to open these partnerships up to straight couples or repeal altogether.
The Bermuda vote only further complicates the UK's conversation about marriage equality. Because Bermuda is a British territory, the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, had to approve the change in legislation. Just after the repeal was signed into law, Labor MP Chris Bryant took to the House of Commons to ask why this was approved. Harriet Baldwin, a junior foreign office minister, was tasked with answering.
While Baldwin said the UK government was "obviously disappointed" with the decision, "After full and careful consideration in regard to Bermuda’s constitutional and international obligations, the secretary of state decided that in these circumstances it would not be appropriate to use this power to block legislation, which can only be used where there is a legal or constitutional basis for doing so, and even only in exceptional circumstances."
Bryant was less than satisfied with this answer. "However the government tries to dress this up, it is a backward step for human rights in Bermuda, and in the overseas territories," he said. "Gay and lesbian Bermudians have been told that they aren’t quite equal to everyone else. They’ve been told that they don’t deserve—this is the word being used—the full marriage rights that other Bermudians deserve."
The decision is also receiving backlash from human rights groups—particularly those who focus on gaining marriage equality and equal rights for LGBTQ people—at a time when many nations are introducing legislation in favor of marriage equality.
“Governor Rankin and the Bermuda parliament have shamefully made Bermuda the first national territory in the world to repeal marriage equality,” said Ty Cobb, the director of Human Rights Campaign Global.