An amendment to ensure gay marriage remained banned was defeated. *AFP photo
An amendment to ensure gay marriage remained banned was defeated. *AFP photo

MP Wayne Furbert’s motion to add a clause to the Human Rights Act to ensure gay marriage remained banned was defeated in the House of Assembly Friday night 18 to 12.

Mr Furbert wanted the amendment so that it would be clear that the human rights legislation that was eventually passed last night would not take precedence over the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1974.

The 1974 legislation outlaws gay marriage and being married to two people at the same time.

Mr Furbert said the constituents in the ‘Bible Belt’ of Hamilton parish wanted assurances Bermuda was not moving in a direction that would allow gay marriage.

“The cry we hear throughout the community, and I’m sure every member has heard it – if they not heard it, the Minister (Wayne Scott) would not have made it perfectly clear that this amendment…does not deal with same sex marriage.

He said Bermuda does have the Matrimonial Causes Act, which states that a marriage shall be void if the couple are not male and female.

“The majority of Bermudians do not want (people) to be discriminated against based on sexual orientation as far as working and living accommodations but there is no doubt that the majority of Bermudians do not support same sex marriages.”

Mr Furbert said he brought forth his amendment to “ease” the minds of constituents that they could support changes in the Human Rights Act without it leading to gay marriage.

“It just makes it clear, that it doesn’t leave any doubt where we stand on this particular issue.”

Attorney General Mark Pettingill said a response to Mr Furbert’s amendment was not needed because it was clear in the Matrimonial Causes Act that gay marriage is not allowed.

“Those laws are there, and maybe, as it’s happened in other jurisdictions the day will come when that becomes an issue. Maybe it has to be tested out. Somebody has to bring that challenge in the courts. Maybe we have to evolve even further to get to that stage.

“You have heard me speak about civil partnerships. It is fundamentally wrong that a gay couple that have lived together all their lives – maybe married in other jurisdictions, maybe not – but are partners.”

He said they don’t have the same rights and that will have to be looked at somewhere down the road.

Mr Pettingill said for those reasons Mr Furbert’s amendment should not be included in the Human Rights Act “at this particular juncture”.

David Burt said he supported the amendment.

“As we canvassed our constituencies, this was a valid concern. It was a concern that was raised over and over and over again.”

Mr Burt said while the Attorney General considered Mr Furbert’s amendment banning gay marriages redundant, other lawyers do not and it is something that is needed to make it clear.

Derrick Burgess added that if a judge had to decide on gay marriage “he would have to make his ruling on the Human Rights Act and not the Matrimonial (Causes) Act. So if put it in here, it makes it very, very clear.”

“I’m concerned about the ramifications.”

Walton Brown said this amendment smacked of hypocrisy.

He said: “We cannot talk about giving rights to people who are currently marginalized, who don’t have any rights, and yet, at the same time, we’re going to put a cap on those rights can be realized.

“Rights that are meant to be sacrosanct aren’t meant limited in their expression.”

“At some point, we have to move to the full recognition of their human rights.”

Kim Wilson, Shadow AG, said: “I did quite a lot of canvassing, and the one issue that resonated with those persons who questioned the extent this amendment would effect…the whole issue of same sex marriage.”

The AG said she appreciates the Matrimonial Causes Act rules gay marriage void but Mr Furbert’s amendment would provide a huge level of comfort to both MPs and constituents.

She said the Human Rights Act is Bermuda’s second most important piece of legislation behind the Constitution and would surpass anything in the Matrimonial Causes Act.

Marc Bean said this was discussed in PLP Caucus and the consensus was the Human Rights Act amendment would “eventually lead to same sex marriage”.

“Elsewhere, where the move towards same sexual orientation are protected under human rights has been conducted, it’s always been part of an overall agenda that not only leads to same sex marriage but to the adoption of children. That’s just the reality. The United States, Canada, the UK, that’s what we see. So why do we stand up in this House… and tip-toe around issues?”

Shawn Crockwell said he acknowledges the concern that this could lead to some grey areas going forward.

“My concern now is that this debate is detracting from the purpose of what we sought to achieve today. And, it’s unfortunate that it can somehow water down the achievement of what we will obtain today. I’m not here to downplay or not embrace the concerns that may have been expressed in the community by many constituents in many constituencies.

“But quite often these concerns are predicated in fear. And quite often they are predicated in unwarranted fear. We cannot allow fear as a Government to preclude us from allowing future progress."