UK Minister Answers Questions About Bermuda

February 26, 2018

Bermuda’s Domestic Partnership Act legislation continues to be a topic of discussion in British Parliament, with the Minister of State responding to questions from a Labour MP.

Labour MP Catherine West asked the Minister of State “what recent assessment his Department has made of the status of LGBT+ rights in Bermuda” and “what recent discussions he has had with his Bermudian counterpart on same-sex marriage legislation.”

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In response, the Minister of State Alan Duncan said, “The Domestic Partnership Act will withdraw the entitlement for same sex couples to marry and replace it with a provision for domestic partnerships for all couples, regardless of gender. Same sex couples entering into a ‘domestic partnership’ will be entitled to the same benefits as married couples.

“Those who have been legally married in Bermuda since the Supreme Court decision in May 2017, will retain their married status and have the same legal rights as those in domestic partnerships.

“The Supreme Court ruling permitted same sex couples in Bermuda to marry, but it did not address the entitlement of same sex couples to the same benefits as opposite sex married couples.

“The Act now put those rights on a clear statutory footing. Less than a year ago, same sex couples had no legal recognition at all under Bermudian law.

“The Minister for the Commonwealth and the UN raised the issue of human rights including LGBT rights and the need to ensure that our collective human rights obligations are upheld, in his meeting with the Bermuda Premier in October 2017, and at the Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council in November 2017.

“Officials have engaged on a regular basis with the Government of Bermuda, and with all of the Overseas Territories to encourage and promote LGBT equality.”

The statement in UK Parliament that the “Court ruling permitted same sex couples in Bermuda to marry, but it did not address the entitlement of same sex couples to the same benefits as opposite sex married couples” had also been made by Premier Burt during an interview late last year.

Saying “it is something that has been missed,” the Premier said that after the passage of the Domestic Partnership Act, same sex couples will “enjoy more legal benefits than they previously had.”

In the interview last year, Premier Burt said, “What happened previously before is that, for instance, same-sex couples did not have rights to pensions, did not have rights to survivorship benefits, hospital visitation, health insurance rights, prior to the passage of the Domestic Partnership Act. They now have those benefits, which they did not previously have.

“Though the judge said that same-sex couples were entitled to marry, the judge cannot give same-sex couples legal benefits,” the Premier said.

Following the Premier’s comments, we asked Mark Pettingill, the lawyer who represented the same sex couple in their legal case which resulted in same sex marriage being legal, about the matter, and he explained that as some Acts, such as the Pensions Act, used language such as ‘man’ and ‘wife’, the Acts would need amending, however he also added that “could have been accomplished as indicated by Justice Simmons in her ruling without removing the right to same sex marriage.”

The legislation is already facing a legal challenge, as Mr Pettingill has filed a motion on behalf of a client challenging the constitutional aspects of the Domestic Partnership Act.

Mr Pettingill previously told Bernews that Roderick Ferguson, a Bermudian man living in the United States, filed this lawsuit because “the right to have a same-sex marriage has been taken away.”

The former Attorney-General maintained that as Bermuda created legislation that removes it, the Domestic Partnership Act is unconstitutional.

The Orginating Summons filed [PDF] is seeking an Order declaring that the “Domestic Partnership Act 2018, in so far as its effect is to reverse the decision in the case of Godwin & Deroche v The Registrar General, the Attorney General et al [2017] SC (Bda) 36 Civ, notwithstanding provisions of the Human Rights Act 1981, is void.”

This is not the first time the matter has been brought up in UK Parliament, with British MPs debating the matter before and after the UK-appointed Governor gave assent to the Bill.

Extract of the UK House of Commons discussion on Feb 8th after assent was granted

The British Government’s stated position is that while they are disappointed about the removal of same-sex marriage in Bermuda, the domestic partnerships meet the European Court of Human Rights requirement for legal recognition of same-sex relationships, and that when engaging with the British overseas territories, the British Government has to “respect that they are separate, self-governing jurisdictions with their own democratically elected representatives and the right to self-government.”

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Comments (17)

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  1. God says:

    We have bigger problems to solve and it appears that they get some additional rights so We can come back later on and get the I am married thing done. Move the rock forward Bermuda. Can’t do everything at once and stop all the negativity. This issue does not help Seniors, help feed people or get our young Bermudians jobs.

    • facts of the rock says:

      God?…ya rite!

    • Mike Hind says:

      If we have bigger problems to solve, why didn’t they just leave it be?
      No one was being hurt. Everything was fine. Then Mr. Brown had to pipe up with this legislation that hurts people.

      Why not just leave it be?

      • Come Correct says:

        If the UBP/oba that you proudly voted for in July had larger watermelons when they was GOVT, and not afraid to make decision you would have what you truly desire….(Same-sex Marriage)

        Please don’t give us the Oh you didn’t vote UBP/oba syndrome. You probably sleep in their slogan T shirt.

  2. Cow Polly says:

    What a tangled web we weave. Why did the Government not start to make the changes to the existing Acts in order to accommodate same sex partners? That would have been the usual protocol after a judge deemed a law discriminatory. And before anyone starts going on about ‘because the people didn’t want it’, I was on the hill during the protests and ‘the people’ consisted of a small percentage of the populous specific to one demographic and not a clear representation of the population of Bermuda.

    • islandgal says:

      Did you not know about the referendum?

      • Cow Polly says:

        Yep, I voted in the referendum and it was deemed null and void because not enough people voted. So what’s your point?

      • Legalgal says:

        The telling number from the Referendum is that only 14,192 out of 44,367 registered voters objected to same sex marriage.

        That’s the maths that matters.

        But the principle with Human Rights is that the mob rule/“tyranny of the majority” cannot trump an individual’s right.

        • Rainbow Justice says:

          Damn right…
          Less than ONE THIRD voted NO to Same-sex marriage in the referendum.
          #FakeNews when media “parrot” Preserve Marriage speak that 68% voted against SSM. That is a BOLD-FACED LIE. Perpetrated by politicians and some religious leaders to suit their twisted anti marriage equality stance.
          32% voted no…. That is the truth as opposed to all these mischievous lies.

  3. Joe Bloggs says:

    The Honourable Minister said “Court ruling permitted same sex couples in Bermuda to marry, but it did not address the entitlement of same sex couples to the same benefits as opposite sex married couples”.

    Clearly the Honourable Minister did not read the judgment or understand that “marriage” means “marriage” for all purposes.

  4. Stripping rights that have been granted says:

    under law is never cool.

    Get used to the publicity Bermuda–we took a backward step–for what–

    Political expediency–while the country gets dragged through the mud internationally.

    That is sooo not leadership….

    • Joe Bloggs says:


      • Kevin says:

        yes I see the 24 – 12 result
        I will suffer as a result of this and so will you
        Just because you were misled again and that’s how easy it is
        You won’t see progress because the plp are capable
        I didn’t vote them in

  5. Me says:

    I voted PLP thinking Mr Burt would be a progressive start and bringing us forward in the modern world in all ways and unify us but alas he missed the chance and decided to chase a dollar …. only time short time will reveal more bad choices

  6. Stephen Wayles says:

    Bermuda is no longer on our Bucket List! My husband and I take frequent cruises in our retirement. Bermuda was on the list – and because of the decision to rescind the right for same gender couples to marry, Bermuda is off our destinations list. Furthermore. We because of this decision, we will not book any more cruises on any of the Cruise Lines which sail under the flag of Bermuda. Bermuda’s government claims that the elimination of same-gender marriage has something to do with their understanding of the Christian faith. As with beliefs about Holy Communion, Baptism, who is eligible for ordination, what happens after death, what day of the week is the one appropriate for Christian worship, how many sacraments there are, how many and which books of the Bible are authoritative, whether the Bible is to be interpreted literally or critically with care to composition date, authorship, context etc… – there are differences among Christians in all of these areas. There are many denominations which now ordain gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons. Likewise while many churches oppose gay marriage, there are an increasing number of Christian denominations in the USA, the UK and Europe who do marry same gender couples. In the USA that includes, Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the New Catholic Church, among others. Still other denominations, including the Episcopal Church, are working toward this just reality. Additionally, Reformed Jews and Unitarians also marry same gender couples. Bermuda has the right to makes laws. We, our friends and families have the right not to spend our glbt dollars in countries where our marriages are not recognized or permitted. And we have the right to boycott cruise lines which fly under the flag of a nation which will not marry its citizens who are our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Liberal Christians united to boycott South Africa over the injustice of apartheid. We will do the same over the injustice that creates a second class citizenship for Gays and Lesbians.

    • PBanks says:

      Mr. Wayles, many people here understand your frustration and anger, but actions like boycotts may serve to further harm the local LGBT community and their allies, instead of encourage them to continue their pursuit.

      Would you consider a more positive approach and lobby governments or other movements to continue to address issues that would benefit the LGBT community?

    • I guess you dont cruise to the Caribbean, they dont support SSM.