IN AN astonishing about-turn, Bermuda – a British Overseas Territory – voted last December 13 to reverse gay marriage legislation just six months after the Supreme Court ordered the introduction same-sex unions. The Government replaced it with a Domestic Partnership Act.

The reversal came after pressure was put on lawmakers by anti-gay outfit called Preserve Marriage Bermuda (PMD), headed by fundamentalist Christian Melvyn Bassett. After the introduction of gay marriage PMD said in a statement that it would “continue its relentless efforts to reverse the recent court decision that allows for same-sex marriages to be performed in Bermuda and plans to keep its many thousands of supporters informed of the progress of its efforts”.

Anti-gay protesters in Bermuda

The Domestic Partnership Act, passed through Parliament by votes of 8–3 and 24–10, abolished same-sex marriage, while extending a lesser form of civil partnership to gay people.

In a PinkNews report, Rod Attride-Stirling, a lawyer who worked on same-sex marriage passage, spoke against the Domestic Partnership Act.

“There is lawful same-sex marriage in Bermuda and there have been several marriages, so the Government is taking away a right that exists.

“If the Supreme Court had not already ruled on this, then the position would be very different,” he said.

“The fact that no country in the world has ever done this should give us pause. We will look foolish and oppressive, at a time when we can ill-afford this, in the light of everything going on and the spotlight shining on us for other reasons.”

However, at the time of writing (January 28, 2018), the legislation had not passed into law because the Governor of Bermuda, John Rankin, had still not signed it.

According to a Cayman News Service report, the UK’s Overseas Territories Minister, Lord Ahmad, told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee earlier in January that the reversal was of “deep concern to us” as the British Government remains committed to same-sex marriage as a human right. Lord Ahmad said that he had raised the issue directly with Bermuda’s premier when they met just after the Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council meeting and that “they know of our deep concern in this respect”.

He said Britain was “clear where we stand on the issue of same-sex marriage, it is the human right of any individual to have that right. That point has been made in no uncertain terms to the premier and he is aware of the British government’s position on that.”

But the peer who has responsibility for all the territories has not said whether or not the governor will assent or not.

“Our governor is the representative of the UK, and he will reflect the views of Her Majesty’s Government,” he said. Though he pointed to Bermuda’s constitution and the legal position surrounding that, he noted that the governor takes his instructions from London. “I’ve got deep concerns about what happened there.”

Last December, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “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.”

Kevin Dallas, CEO of the Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA), has warned in a letter that the law could have crippling consequences for the territory’s tourism industry. Luxury tourism is one of the main sources of income for Bermuda, alongside financial services for international firms.

Mr Dallas said: “We feel compelled to express our concern about what the negative consequences could be for tourism if the Domestic Partnership Bill passes the Senate this week.
“We believe the Bill poses an unnecessary threat to the success of our tourism industry.”

His letter warned: “Same sex marriage is already the law of our island and to roll that back for what will be seen as a less equal union will cause us serious reputational damage.

“We are convinced it will result in lost tourism business for Bermuda.

“While we cannot responsibly estimate what the scale of those losses will be, we can point to contemporary examples that tell a cautionary tale.”

The letter cites controversies in the US when Republican leaders in North Carolina and Indiana attempted to roll back LGBT rights, only to face boycotts from business.

The letter continued: “At the Bermuda Tourism Authority, we work hard to keep our research and commentary on this issue restricted to economics. That’s our line. The consumer economics of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) travel are this: $165 billion spent worldwide per year, $65 billion of that is spent in the United States alone.

“The Bermuda tourism economy, and the workers and businesses who make it thrive, deserve their fair share of the LGBT market as we all continue the uphill climb toward tourism resurgence.

“Significantly, it’s not only LGBT travelers that care about equal rights based on sexual orientation. Our research indicates many companies, consumers and travelers, including the overwhelming majority of the younger visitors powering Bermuda’s growth, care about this issue. It’s why the fallout in North Carolina and Indiana has proven so detrimental.

“While it’s not possible to project the precise ramifications of a yes vote for Bermuda, we are confident the impact will be negative. Ominous headlines signal the hazards ahead.

“The yet-to-be-written headlines could be damaging enough to derail the seven consecutive quarters of growth the Bermuda tourism industry has enjoyed dating back to January 2016.

“Tourism workers are getting more hours on the job, visitors are spending more of their money on-island and entrepreneurs are flocking to the tourism economy because they sense a bright future of sustained growth. Let’s not jeopardise that growth.

“We should send a message that Bermuda 
continually and permanently lives up to its well-earned reputation as a warm, friendly and welcoming destination.”