Column: Cultural Dynamics Of SSM Debate

February 12, 2018 | 27 Comments

[Opinion column written by Ryan Robinson Perinchief]

The recent saga surrounding the passing of the Domestic Partnerships Bill has done a great disservice to the majority of Bermuda.

I say this not on the basis that it is a step towards the inevitable legalisation of same-sex marriage, nor that it has stripped away fundamental rights from the LGBT+ community.

Ryan Robinson Perinchief Bermuda Feb 12 2018 1

The shame lies in that throughout this entire ordeal, not once has the polarity of the debate on same-sex marriage been properly outlined in consideration of Bermuda’s colonial history and unique socio-political reality.

The result has been a year-long shouting match between two diametrically opposed groups, neither of which have proven to comprise a true majority of Bermudians – who evidently did not care enough to vote in the non-binding referendum and, quite frankly, appear listless somewhere in the middle.

In one corner is Preserve Marriage,  ostensibly a coalition of local members of the religious community. Whilst there may be truth to the claim that they are supported by individuals of various faiths, ethnicities and nationalities, it is evident that the loudest opponents of same-sex marriage have been Black Bermudians of the predominant Christian faith.

Firstly, in considering the background of Preserve Marriage, it is important to acknowledge that the church can never be fully excluded from participation in political affairs.

Various movements have been sparked by religious institutions in response to the struggles faced by its members. The backbone of the traditional Bermudian, the church has taken active roles in galvanising and politically influencing black communities in particular since the 20th century.

This has been exemplified by the impact of grassroots figures such as Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement, and locally with Reverend Nicholas Tweed and his prominent role in the People’s Campaign as recently as last year.

Accordingly, the claim that religious organisations should be denied their say in political affairs based on a belief in the strong separation of church and state is not only unrealistic, but demonstrates a lack of consideration as to the pervasiveness of religious influence in the recent history of Bermuda and its predominantly black and Christian inhabitants; without which, we would not have seen the various historic advances in civil rights for African-Americans overseas and Black and working class Bermudians alike.

Nevertheless, the recent selectiveness of which principles the local church has chosen to unite on and campaign for reveal its misplaced priorities.

Ryan Robinson Perinchief Bermuda Feb 12 2018 2

Indeed, it is disappointing that the nearly two decades of continuous gun violence and dozens of black deaths were insufficient to produce even a single sustained movement to preserve the lives of members of our own community.

In contrast, what is perhaps the largest mobilisation of the church in Bermuda’s recent history was sparked by the mere prospect of ‘same-sex marriage’, resulting in the rapid formation of Preserve Marriage – complete with charity status, public awareness campaigns, a website and online advertising, bumper stickers, a legal team, and a symposium of religious leaders from various faiths in a rare moment of multi-denominational unity.

Let me be clear: I normally would not go out of my way to criticise any institution that has contributed to the upliftment of so many persons in our society, myself included. But this is a clear example of the hypocrisy of a community which has divided so many of the families that it proclaims to protect – particularly in directing a tremendous amount of resources to something which is inevitable according to Biblical prophecy.

In uniting various denominations and religious factions over the course of a year to establish a political lobbying group and charity to protest same-sex marriage, Preserve Marriage has set a precedent that it is indeed possible for the religious community to take a more active role in political issues affecting the public when deemed important enough to do so.

Accordingly, I remain hopeful that the momentum seen in the fight against same-sex marriage can now be redirected to other issues such as gang violence, poverty, and the many mental health, abuse and identity crises which have all been intensified by broken homes and families.

Ryan Robinson Perinchief Bermuda Feb 12 2018 3

On the other side of the fence are the various groups and individuals in favour of same-sex marriage, some of whom have actively campaigned for LGBT+ rights for a number of years.

Only a minority in this camp are fully conscious of the various nuances in Bermudian societal attitudes, and were therefore unsurprised at the eventual rejection of same-sex marriage. I am particularly reminded of activists such as Linda Mienzer, who is LGBT,black, and a woman, and would consequently be no stranger to confronting discrimination in multiple dimensions.

Although the remaining advocates for same-sex marriage are by no means confined to any one religious or ethnic group, it is clear that many of its vociferous advocates seem to have been either expatriates from more socially liberal western nations, Bermudians living overseas, or Bermudians of European descent in general.

It was largely these groups that were completely astonished that so many Bermudians could be completely unashamed in denying approval of same-sex couples to marry.

Certainly, when compared to our ‘developed’ counterparts, we natives ought to know that “the world has progressed” such that same-sex marriage is just as valid as any other in the 21st century and that its reversal would put us back in the dark ages.

But it is in such outbursts that the extreme cultural incompetence is revealed. Surely, all those involved in the debate have not forgotten that Bermuda’s societal temperament toward the entire concept of homosexuality, morality and rights is shaped as much by Jamaica and our Caribbean cousins as it is by England and the rest of Western Europe?

Indeed, we cannot ignore the colonial links in the debate on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Ryan Robinson Perinchief Bermuda Feb 12 2018 4

Many African and Caribbean nations and their black populations, which for the purpose of this topic includes Bermuda, have been continuously berated as homophobic, bigoted or undeveloped for holding the very same views which were largely imparted upon them through the laws and religious ethics during the colonial era.

Indeed, an examination of 185 countries printed in the Washington Post found that former British colonies are much more likely to have laws criminalising homosexuality than other nations in general.

Accordingly, it is ironic that some blacks claim that acceptance of homosexuality is a European import, when in fact it is the laws rejecting homosexual conduct that are European in origin. It is furthermore sanctimonious that the influences responsible for advancing the stigmatisation of homosexuality through colonial laws and religion mere decades ago, are now shaming those same populations for retaining the very attitudes which the west has only decided are outdated in as recent as the past 10 years.

Further fanning the colonial flames are the present-day supporters who audaciously urged Britain to direct our Commander-in-Chief to overturn democratically enacted legislation.

And I should not fail to point out the glaring hypocrisy in that many Bermudians were blamed for destroying the tourism industry with their various strikes and boycotts by some of the same activists who are now calling for an international economic boycott against Bermuda via social media.

Ryan Robinson Perinchief Bermuda Feb 12 2018 5

Finally, as for the claims of a ‘generation gap’ being used as political fodder to run the narrative that young Bermudians are overwhelmingly in support of same-sex marriage, it is intellectually dishonest to deny that the youth also are divided on this issue and will differ considerably by ethnicity, religious background, class, and moreover, whether one has studied at an overseas institution and been exposed to a more western-liberal worldview.

Overall, both parties have demonstrated an unwillingness to critically engage with the underlying causes of disagreement – which clearly extend beyond religion – and have failed to reflect internally and intersectionally in order to place the debate in its true context.

On one hand, a population that eagerly wishes to bring this traditionally socially sluggish colony up to the times with no regard to its damaged history; on the other, a religious community that is so focused on the forthcoming moral apocalypse that it has largely neglected the most prominent issues plaguing its own congregations.

Having achieved a temporary victory, it is yet to be seen whether Preserve Marriage will redirect its energy toward more pressing social problems.

In the meantime, if the proponents of same-sex marriage have any hope of changing the mindset of a people still under colonial rule, they will have to begin – not by making misguided accusations of homophobia or economic threats – but with leadership that is willing to undertake the enormous task of deconstructing the prevailing resentment of homosexuality with a new approach that is self-reflective, intersectional, and inclusive of all histories.

Ryan Robinson Perinchief Bermuda Feb 12 2018 7

In any event, it is inevitable that the debate on same-sex marriage will re-emerge– for those who believe in religious prophecy, and for those who believe that in the end, “love wins”. Perhaps when it does resurface, both parties will do it justice.

- Ryan Robinson Perinchief is studying law at Durham University in the UK. He graduated with honours from the Berkeley Institute, where he served as Head Boy, Student Council, and a Peer Mediator. A former Youth Premier of the island’s Youth Parliament, he won the Alpha Beautillion, an Outstanding Teen Award, and the best youth submission to the SAGE Commission. Ryan is also the founder and director of the Future Leaders Programme.

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Comments (27)

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  1. Erin Lovell says:

    Excellent article Ryan. Regardless of whether someone agrees or disagrees with your position, it is one of the most balanced pieces I have seen to come out of this debacle to date. Thanks for having the courage to tackle such a controversial issue with both candor and respect.

  2. rodney smith says:

    RYAN , You did say that you were young. That being the case , I forgive you due to your limited knowledge .Love will win in the end , while at the same time , standing up against that which would be harmful to the community .The church stood up against this onslaught , and won . It maybe that you and I must fight all the other issues ,i.e. , gangs , drugs, crime , homelessness , education, etc, etc. Truth is not relative . It is an anchor hooked to an immoveable rock , not a rope drifting in the shiftless sea . Stand up man.

    • clearasmud says:

      This is a well balanced view articulated with maturity well beyond Ryan’s age. He does not need your forgiveness and despite his age I believe you could learn a lot from this young man. You are entitled to your view but that does not make his any less valid.

    • Yesitsme says:

      Love wins in the end………who told you that lie? I love my cousin, but that didn’t stop him from murdering a friend of mines. How love win that battle??

    • therock says:

      ” I forgive you due to your limited knowledge”

      that’s hilarious…what’s your excuse, old man?
      You seem to have nothing but a bigoted, narrow view…you could learn volumes from this young man.
      I’m embarrassed for you.

  3. me says:

    more useless articles too late when the horse has bolted

  4. Philippe says:

    Excellent read Ryan!!!

  5. Southshore says:

    A well written column with some well thought out points. However it is too late at this point many people believe we are an island of bigots.

  6. Beautifully written but... says:

    To the rest of the world what Bermuda has done is nothing more than a regressive step and the logic being used, even your very eloquent piece, is perceived as being steeped in bigotry, regardless of the reasons.

    There is much work to be done and SSM will become part of the Bermudian fabric, everyone knows this.

    Shame that PM and the PLP and its supporters have adopted a “scorthced earth policy” to achieve this interim step.

    Folks have to be willing to undertake a conversation, I am not sure they are in Bermuda—We are wonderful talkers but not very good listeners.

    Blessings abound.

  7. junior burchall says:

    In order to understand the resistance to SSM among Bermudians of Afrikan descent, you absolutely *must* refer to history. This didn’t emerge in a vacuum – rather, there are various interlocking, antecedent conditions, all of which trace their point of origin to the invasion of the Motherland by psychopathic, homophobic, anti-Black Europeans. These pale marauders then initiated a centuries-long (and still-ongoing) campaign of psychological re-conditioning that they imposed, via the bible, the gun, the law and the classroom, upon hundreds of millions of Afrikans at Home and throughout the Diaspora. It is this re-conditioning – an unimaginably violent process of “kill the Afrikan, keep the man” – that has largely shaped our response to this issue. Therefore, to cast aspersions on the ‘unenlightened’, ‘bigoted’ Black Bermudian without first acknowledging, understanding and providing the all-important necessary socio-historical context (as many a self-styled ‘progressive’, ‘liberal’ white Bermudian and white British politician has done) is to do a colossal disservice to intellectual integrity and simple common sense.

    Kudos to Ryan for bringing much-needed critical awareness to bear on this topic. Good job, YoungBlood!

  8. Bob says:

    Rodney – your condescending retort is bizarre and unfortunate. The young man’s balanced and thought provoking commentary should be applauded, not chastised and characterized as immature.

    FYI – the church is not above being criticized and suggesting that they should not be expected to invest as much effort in other social issues that have plagued our community leaves you and your flawed argument seriously exposed …

  9. Joe says:

    Lordy lordy, this is why Bermuda is heading for failure. I guess education isn’t the answer.

    • Mike says:

      Keep them stupid… great answer.

      • Bob says:

        Are you referring to those that read and believe biblical verse? If so, how is it stupid to disagree with a lifestyle that doesn’t jive with the teachings contained within?

        Do you believe in the Bible?

    • Bob says:

      Well reasoned and balanced opinions do not lead to a failed jurisdiction – failure to consider an alternate view often does ..

      The fact that a middle ground was arrived at in the end is in my opinion an acceptable conclusion, particularly given the level of anger from both sides.

  10. Confused says:

    This young man is only parroting the liberal rubbish that the white educators of Europe is teaching him. He denies basic moral education and he is the type of person well trained to continue the breakdown of our moral fiber.

    • Reuben says:

      And what is this “basic moral education” based on? The Christian faith that is forced on every race as the Europeans expanded their empires?

    • Zevon says:

      You’re parroting that right-wing rubbish that the secret foriegn organizations told you when they were secretly backing PM.

  11. Wagwon says:

    Yawn…

  12. Dexter Smith says:

    Ryan, this was a fantastic read. You have an undeniable talent, married to an intellect and maturity that is refreshing in someone so young. Try not to let the comments in this thread get you down; empathy and forward thinking do not often go hand in hand with our fellow man. Please get in touch on 278-0169 or dsmith@royalgazette.com. Your voice deserves a wider airing.

  13. Pastor Syl says:

    The most well-reasoned article I have seen to date. Thank you, young Mr. Perinchief. I especially noted your recognition of the fact that the most homophobic nations are those which the British colonized and brought their “fire and brimstone” version of the Bible. Ironic isn’t it, for those who object to colonialism while holding firm to colonially imposed belief systems.

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