Column: Self Governance & Same Sex Marriage

February 1, 2018 | 36 Comments

[Opinion column written by Eron Hill]

This past Monday, I accompanied fellow Bermudian law student, Izabella Arnold, for a visit to the House of Commons in London. We set out to witness what we believed was going to be an unprecedented event in Bermuda’s history. The topic of interest was that British MPs were scheduled to hold a ‘debate’ about legislation that had already been passed in both Bermuda’ House of Assembly and Senate and was awaiting the governor’s Royal Assent—something that was of special interest to us.

On 8th December 2017, the bill relating to the Bermuda Domestic Partnership Act 2017 was passed in the House of Assembly with a 24-10 majority. Five days later, on the 13th December 2017, the Senate of Bermuda supported the decision of the House of Assembly by passing the bill with an 8-3 majority. The Act, if signed into law, will result in the outlawing of same sex-marriage.

The Domestic Partnership Act 2017, if signed into law, will reverse the effect of the Bermuda Supreme Court ruling of 5th May 2017 in Godwin-Deroche v The Registrar General et al which established that marriage should be permitted irrespective of gender.

For a great deal of individuals, it may be suggested that the Domestic Partnership Act 2017 is a retrograde act that should be reconsidered. Further, there are many people who have expressed disappointment that MP Wayne Furbert neglected to re-table the Human Rights Amendment Act 2017, which would have, in effect, preserved the traditional concept of marriage, as only between a man and a woman. MP Furbert’s Private Members Bill was passed in Parliament on 8th July 2016, but was prevented from implementation on 15th July 2016, when the Senate rejected the bill with a vote of 6-5.

Notwithstanding his declaration that the bill would be introduced when Parliament resumed in September 2017, MP Furbert, now Junior Minister of Finance, did not re-introduce the bill and was one of the 24 MPs who then voted in support of the Domestic Partnership Act 2017. Could this possibly be interpreted as changing his stance on the subject matter in typical political style, perhaps?

Contrastingly, there are those that are extremely pleased with the passing of the Domestic Partnership Act, who see it as a satisfactory compromise that gives certain ancillary rights [i.e. pensions, equality of gender rights etc.] to same-sex couples that they did not have hitherto which certainly is an improvement [but falling short of enabling marriage between same sex couples], it’s intention therefore being to preserve the institution of ‘marriage’ as only a union between a man and a woman. Such individuals believe the Progressive Labour Party should be applauded for what they say demonstrates political evolutionary leadership. What do you think?

The 30-minute video from the House of Commons

I personally declared my position on the matter nearly two years ago when I announced my belief that same sex-couples should be allowed to marry and enjoy the same legal rights afforded to heterosexual couples. It is my fervent view, that anything that falls short of that, is unacceptable.

Now returning to my visit to Parliament on Monday. Did you expect to hear that the British government would respond by directing Governor Rankin, our current Governor of Bermuda to withhold his assent to the Domestic Partnership Act? Or were you, like me, conflicted because whilst you certainly do not support the retro-actively voiding of marriage equality, you also hold the view that the United Kingdom has no business meddling in settled matters of our legislature?

When marriage equality came toe-to-toe with the constitutional consideration of ‘self-governance’, what would prevail? What should prevail?

Some might hold the view that it is not as serious as the latter question might suggest and that the whole debacle surrounding the legislation should demonstrate to the government that the bill should be removed and reconsidered. What do you think?

There were no more than 8 members of parliament present in the House of Commons chamber at 9:11pm, when MP Chris Bryant stood up to condemn the Bermuda Domestic Partnership Act 2017.

In my view, what occurred next did not amount to a ‘debate’ but instead was a brief opportunity for an opposition Labour MP to be provided the opportunity to express his views on the matter and receive a reply to those views by a Conservative government representative.

Mr. Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda, called on Governor Rankin to withhold assent and challenged the Premier and Minster of Home Affairs to withdraw the bill from the Governor’s desk. He referred to the bill a ‘a deeply unpleasant and cynical piece of legislation’.

Responding to Mr. Bryant, Rt. Hon Sir Allan Duncan MP said whilst the British government remained committed to promoting and protecting LGBT equality around the globe, it would not be reasonable for the United Kingdom government to expect or demand sudden change in the transformation of attitudes towards same-sex marriage in other countries when it took so long to happen in Britain, stating that it has only been just over four years since the Marriage [same-sex couples] Act was passed into law in the United Kingdom.

Sir Allan declared as follows: ‘This government has no plans to impose same-sex marriage in the territories….We can help to encourage change but in doing so we must be aware of the local situation and be respectful of individual democracies. The British Overseas Territories are separate, self-governing jurisdictions with their own democratically elected representatives’.

You might be wondering, if it is true that we are in fact a ‘separate, self-governing jurisdiction’. Why did the British parliament raise the matter in the House of Commons at all?

Having regard to the fact that Monday’s ‘debate’ has no constitutional bearing on Governor Rankin’s decision to give royal assent to the bill or not, you might consider that the mentioning of the matter in the House of Commons was no more than an attempt to sway public opinion, and indeed Governor Rankin, to the idea of withholding assent.

Are you okay with that?

Whilst I agree with the spirit of the opposition to the bill, the act of ‘debating’ a piece of legislation in The House of Commons that the democratically elected Bermuda government has already settled, does not sit well with me and this precedent ought to be cause for concern.

What do you think?

What business does Britain have meddling in the affairs of Bermuda’s legislature, so long as we do not run afoul of our international legal obligations? Is it time to make it abundantly clear that no seeming or actual interference by United Kingdom will be tolerated?

Is the Governor’s assent supposed to be a rubber-stamp procedure that is merely ceremonial as opposed to a real decision to assent, much like the Queen’s royal assent in the United Kingdom is?

Imagine for a moment that after this so-called Brexit implementation period and passing of the Withdrawal Bill for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, the Queen decided she wasn’t going to sign the bill into law. Yes, technically, on a strict assessment of the sovereignty of the United Kingdom’s legislature, the Queen’s assent is necessary for bills to become law, but surely nobody would fathom that after democratically elected officials have decided the matter that the ‘monarch’ would intervene—that would be an absurdity and a repugnant to the intent and spirit of the legislature, no?

You may be of the view that our government has resolved to eschew, at least for now, the topic of independence – but with some U.K MPs declaring that ‘power and influence’ should be used to ensure that the U.K’s reputation is upheld, now may be the appropriate time to re-examine the colonial relationship between the United Kingdom and Bermuda; what do you think?

Should the Bermuda Governor be allowed, absent any legal incompatibilities caused by the proposed legislation, to refuse or delay indefinitely his assent to a bill of parliament?

Former Bermuda Governor, George Fergusson and his wife, were also present in the gallery with Izabella and I on Monday night.

Eron Hill, former Governor George Fergusson, and Bermudian law student Izabella Arnold

Former Bermuda Governor, George Fergusson Feb 1 2018

You may recall that when he was the Governor of Bermuda, Mr. Fergusson decided on 10th July 2014 to refuse a bid by parliament to set-up a commission of inquiry into the land purchases in Tucker’s Town in the 1920s, when people were removed from the area to create homes in a bid to boost the tourism industry and the compulsory purchase of land in the 1940s to create an airfield for the US Army and Bermuda’s airport.

When the bid to set up the commission of inquiry was refused by Governor Fergusson, MP Walton Brown remarked that ‘The Governor has disrespected the will of the people in disregarding the call from Parliament for a Commission of Inquiry. The Governor has now thrown down the gauntlet and we will respond.”- 10th July 2014

You might ask; what is the appropriate response to such intervention by ‘Her Majesty’s representative’?

With the latter consideration in mind, I believe it to be of utmost importance that we feel free to openly discuss the nature of the relationship we desire between the United Kingdom and Bermuda; which in my view would serve to achieve democratic progress by endeavoring to clarify the parameters of our legislative decision-making powers for our great island of Bermuda.

To that end, we shall, if permitted, in a series of columns to follow, consider the following questions: What does it mean to be a ‘self-governing’ British Overseas Territory? Should Britain meddle in the affairs of Bermuda’s Parliament? Is it time to re-examine the colonial relationship with the U.K?

I’d love to hear your views; email me at eronhill@live.com

- Eron Hill
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Comments (36)

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  1. Politricks says:

    Proof that this was all a stunt by the PLP to try and garner support for their ultimate goal of independence.

    Go ahead and rock that boat and create some more instability and watch this already fragile economy shatter to pieces. Because if you think for one minute that our one economic pillar will stay around to see if a post-independent Bermuda is a place they wish to remain domiciled then you are kidding yourselves.

    Pride always comes before the fall.

  2. Joe Bloggs says:

    “Contrastingly, there are those that are extremely pleased with the passing of the Domestic Partnership Act, who see it as a satisfactory compromise …”

    I wonder how many people in Bermuda would view it as a “satisfactory compromise” if equality for women or the disabled or people other than Caucasians was rolled back because a vocal minority demanded it?

    Human rights should be enjoyed by all “humans” or none at all.

    • PBanks says:

      The only people who expressed that it was a satisfactory compromise were the MPs and Senators who voted for it. The PM side wasn’t happy, nor were the groups in favour of the previous arrangement.

    • Mike Hind says:

      The ones who see it as a satisfactory compromise are in no way affected by this. Their lives won’t change at all.

  3. nerema says:

    So it ‘doesn’t sit well’ with Mr Hill if MP’s in the UK Parliament publically expressing their views about things settled by the democratically elected government of Bermuda.

    But somehow he’s fine with an unelected foreign pastor on a work permit publically expressing views, holding marches and marches, directly meddling in Bermuda’s affairs, and whipping up public opinion in Bermuda on things settled by the democratically elected government of Bermuda.

    You see the problem Mr Hill?

    • cpm says:

      With you 100 hundred percent but the Peoples Campaign have gone very quiet, surely there is something to march for such as trash

  4. Athena says:

    In the 21st century there should be no ‘satisfactory comprise’ where human rights are concerned. The same human rights belong to all; not just specific groups.

    How would this young man like it if we start rolling back all the equality that has been fought for in the 20th century?

  5. Justin says:

    When Bermuda’s people make irrational decisions, then yes, the UK should intervene. Same way as the Tucker’s Town publicity stunt.

    Funny how Eron Hill takes advantage of subsidized education in the UK and at the same time is implying the UK needs to mind it’s own business. You can’t have your cake and eat it too! Something he’ll learn once he gets into the real world.

    • Joe Bloggs says:

      I think you may be being unfair on Mr. Hill. What I have seen so far is a balanced article that poses some very good questions for us to ponder.

      As for an inquiry into displaced people in Bermuda, personally I was looking forward to an inquiry into the displacement of people from Tucker’s Town (said to be for the betterment of Bermuda) and also in relation to those displaced from Long Bird Island (in order to create Kindley Field Air Force base).

      You cannot inquire into one without inquiring into the other if the goal is the truth rather than a pre-ordained conclusion, in which case such an inquiry would be a waste of time and money.

      • Justin says:

        Ya, Walton Brown and the PLP cared so much about the history of black people in Tucker’s Town that they allowed a golf course to be built on top of slaves’ graves. *sarcasm*

        It was always meant to be a publicity stunt. Fact.

        • Politricks says:

          And couldn’t even take the time to produce a Terms of Reference as to what the Inquiry would cover. The Governor, at the time, asked for that to be produced so that he could give assent. Instead they marched and refused to do so.

    • Sorry Sir says:

      The irony is killing me.

      Seriously….

      Eron, you can’t possibly be for independence while simultaneously benefiting from being dependent.

      Outside of just your education, there are so many opportunities for Bermudian university students to obtain internship in the UK because of dependence as well.

      Think of those who want to escape gang life because of being in constant fear of their lives? Where are they going to go if they can’t escape Bermuda?

      6 feet under, that’s where.

  6. Some Questions says:

    As I’m not afraid to ask the tough questions either:

    1a. Is any overseas “territory” truly “self-governed”?

    1b. If we are already “self-governed” then why would the “economic pillar” lose faith in our already “fragile economy” if we fully separate from the UK? Is this about ownership or representation?

    2a. Is Marriage a human right? Or is it just a religious thing that is recognized legally?

    2b. Is a Domestic partnership basically a legal union without the religious part?

    2c. If Marriage is not required to be a religious thing, why not re-label all non-religious but legally recognized straight marriages as domestic-partnerships?

    3a. If I’m a gay/lesbian Christian (yes there are plenty) and I want to get married, is my intended union inherently both a religious and a legal thing? Being gay does not make you non-religious or non-Christian…

    3b. Or if I’m a gay/lesbian Christian and I choose to recognize homosexuality as sin, but I still want the legal/financial benefits of a marriage, do I then opt for a Domestic Partnership instead?

    • Politricks says:

      1b answer (as it appears to refer to my post): IB is comfortable being in places such as Cayman, BVI Bermuda as they have the backing of the UK which provides a sense of stability as well as access to their legal system.

      Why do you think those three islands are able to attract the quantity of international business as compared to the independent islands? It’s not just a coincidence. There is a misconception that Bermuda is simply attractive to such investors because of our pink sand and blue waters.

      I have asked many people to provide three ‘real’ (not emotional) benefits that Bermuda will experience by cutting ties with the UK. Not one has been able to provide a non-emotional response to date. What will get better for Bermuda and her people by going it alone? Either we we are in no financial position to do so anyways.

      • PBanks says:

        I’m not a pro-independence supporter, but some of the “non-emotional” reasons I’m aware of include:
        ability to arrange trade/commerce deals independently
        autonomy in arranging eg policy without any chance of interference by UK

        Yes, each item can probably be given an adequate rebuttal, but let’s not just start labelling those who are for independence as just swayed by emotion and a desire to merely have a new flag and anthem or whatnot. Besides, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting independence for emotional reasons; there are some Bermudians who simply love the Queen and royalty – nobody’s labelled them as swayed by emotion. But practicality should be the main thing here.

        • Politricks says:

          I do not support independence and it has nothing to do with being a Royalist. It has everything to do with my love of Bermuda, An independent Bermuda would not fare well and neither will her people, especially given our current financial and economic predicaments.

          In terms of your two arguments, can you list what trade deals little old Bermuda would be able to negotiate that would provide us with greater benefits then we already have now? Do you honestly think we produce anything of value that would have any other larger countries running to our door to enact a trade deal with us? We don’t produce a thing to export. So as you noted the rebuttals for such a claim is quite easy to produce. Also, I am not aware of the UK ever interjecting themselves, in modern day terms, to reverse any Government instituted policy.

          I never labelled all independence supporters of being easily swayed by emotions. I stated that every time I ask the question of ‘why independence’ the answers provided from the individuals I have asked have been purely emotional. I am sure there are some non-emotional legitimate answers, but I have yet to hear them up until this point. But my favorite one was from a few years back when the answer was that our football team will play better because they will have some national pride.

          • PBanks says:

            It’s a bit silly but I think the football one may actually be correct in a sense. Not that it qualifies for a legit reason to take such a step. Moving on :)

            On original topic, there seems to also be a sentiment in some quarters that the UK is perfectly willing to throw the OTs under a bus as far as the offshore/taxation drama is concerned, which may make people wonder if they’re getting a good deal currently

          • Not Bermused says:

            Evidently we do in fact have manufactured products to export: Rigid Religiosity and Injustice. Interesting to see how the same people who were against the America’s Cup event are also anti SSM.

    • Politricks says:

      (Forgot to add)

      Just look at Minister Simmons’ reply to a query at an IB forum late last year when one of the attendees queried him on the PLP’s desire for Bermuda to go independent (this was after a PLP Senator’s public cry for independence). These firms pay very close attention to such mutterings. And I can tell you first hand the majority have a contingency plan (ie where to move to next) in place if Bermuda does decide to go down that route.

    • 6mbs says:

      Glad somebody said it!, someone give this person a job! Those are the questions that need answers which could put to rest this whole debacle.

  7. Sorry Sir says:

    This is even more reason why we should stay dependent.
    This is a great example of how Britain doesn’t control us, even in the slightest and allows us to make our own laws.

    There was no intervention from the UK. None at all. They spoke about it. Said they were displeased with it. But in the end are letting our Government do what they want.

    Why go independent when there is absolutely nothing to gain but other things to lose?

    • Bill says:

      Agree. No-one has put together any real pros/cons about Independence and how it would make anything better or worse. Till anyone comes up will real facts, stay the way we are.

      • Sorry Sir says:

        It’s been done.

        The was a Bermuda Independence Commission created back in the 2000′s.

        There was no real benefit to independence.

  8. Shag says:

    I consider this article to be well written by Eron Hill. I personally can’t see any problem with same sex marriage. They would probably last longer than a lot of the marriages between man and woman. Don’t quote the Bible to me. That is one book that should be started with the line “once upon a time”

    • Not Bermused says:

      Which is exactly what prompted the iconoclast performer Grace Jones to flee the rigid religiosity of her native Jamaica. The Trumpian bigots running our government are up to their usual MO: Interfering in what goes on in your bedroom.

  9. Alvin Williams says:

    Interesting there seem to be a thought that if the British appointed governor were to pass a veto on the Domestic partnership Act that this is what pro-independence advocates will use to push for Bermudian national independence. There is almost a palatable fear that this will come to past.But even so this has not brought them to object to British interference in Bermuda’s national affairs. Even the attempt on the part of the British politician who brought this debate to the British parliament by citing the low turn out for the vote held in Bermuda against SSM; holds no water when you see the number of British members of parliament and even those who did not vote in Bexit holds no water to the legitimate out come. I support national independence for Bermuda and I know my people; particular black people in this country in line with other peoples of colour do not support same sex marriage; But I understand why it has gain acceptance in mostly European countries; accept in Russia and perhaps a few others who have strong religious influences.It’s a culturally accepted thing because many of these countries and nations are direct descendants of Greece and Rome where homosexality certainly was not look down upon and was largely practise among the upper classes and the elite.I have written many pro-independence articles; but I have never use homosexality as a foil to gather support for independence and I choose not to use it now even with the issue coming to the fore with a British appointed governor with holding agreement. And that is my point there is nothing to prevent a British governor from doing the very same thing with other bills the British may object to. I will make my stance for a independent Bermuda based on Bermuda’s colonial link to Britain and the potential British threat to what Bermuda considered to be in Bermudian national interests but the British consider it not to be in theirs,

    • Mike Hind says:

      All of this and not once do you offer a single reason for us as a country to deny people the right to marry.

      Most of it is nonsense you made up. The whole “Greece and Rome” thing is gibberish. There is no way you can back that up with a shred of evidence.

      Why can you not just be honest? Why do you have to spread lies in order to promote your position?

      • Not Bermused says:

        Make no mistake, DPA is a retrograde step.

        • Mike Hind says:

          Oh, there’s no mistaking here! I am completely against it, and ANY bill that removes rights from people for absolutely no reason!

  10. Me says:

    Unlike SSM a referendum on independence would produce overwhelmingly a No vote from the Bermudian people

  11. We may not want to go, but we may get push. So be ready for the change of attitude from England .SSM is not a right. Eron, You may support it, but you’re wrong. Additionally, There are some bigger questions that must be asked of you personally. My email is rodneyasmith53@gmail.com

    • Mike Hind says:

      This is incorrect.

      According to the law of this land, as per the ruling, equal access to marriage IS a right.

      You are wrong.

  12. Wise One says:

    Only a few countries on the whole planet have legalized same-sex marriage. The rest of the over 200 nations have not. It is lunacy to force a majority to accept the desires of a very small minority. This issue needs to go to rest and be buried. If these people want to be married so badly, let them go apply for a green-card in USA and live in San Francisco or some other place that allows it. Do not force your beliefs – which are directly opposite and contrary to ours – upon us, thank you. Have some more respect.

    • Mike Hind says:

      This is a misrepresentation of this situation.

      “The majority” is not affected by marriage equality.

      People shouldn’t have to leave their own home in order to get married, ESPECIALLY because it’s legal here.

      Our beliefs are those of equality and fairness. Just because you are a bigot on this subject doesn’t mean the rest of us are.

      Would you care to give one single reason we should support this bill? One that you’re willing to defend?

      Or are you going to continue hiding behind the hood of anonymity, spreading your message of hate?

  13. Rocky5 says:

    Everyone, including the British Govt have to acknowledge and respect, July 18th 2018, 24 -12 and tolerate “within reason”, consequences – good & bad & ugly, that come with it!

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