HAMILTON, Bermuda (CMC) — Premier Michael Dunkley says his One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) Government will take steps to hold a referendum on the controversial topic of same-sex marriage and civil unions in this British Overseas Territory.
Dunkley, accompanied by Community and Culture Minister Patricia Gordon Pamplin, told a media conference on Monday that a referendum bill will be tabled in the House of Assembly “this legislative session”.
It came moments after Gordon-Pamplin tabled the Civil Union Bill 2016 for consultation in the House.
She said the issue of same-sex marriage and civil unions is “at the forefront of our national conversation” because a Supreme Court ruling regarding the Bermuda Bred Company took effect on Monday.
That landmark ruling by Chief Justice Ian Kawaley means that non-Bermudian same-sex partners of Bermudians, who are in permanent relationships, are entitled to live and work in Bermuda free of immigration control.
“It is very important to mention that, prior to that Supreme Court writ, government has sought to do its due diligence to review and to access the issue of same-sex unions by engaging in a very intensive consultation process,” Dunkley told the media.
“This included a series of public information sessions, the sharing of extensive research with the public on how other jurisdictions have sought to approach and reconcile this matter, outlining international legal responsibility, the proposed way the Bermuda Government could implement and manage civil unions, and meeting with advocacy groups and individuals for and against same-sex marriage in civil unions, all with the aim of listening to all sectors of the community on this very sensitive matter.
“That said, as directed by the Supreme Court ruling, the government is required to recognise same-sex couples in a permanent relationship. This government believes in upholding fundamental and basic human rights.”
He said as such, government has an obligation to bring the matter of same-sex unions to a resolution.
“In order to get the widest possible reach of views from the people it is the intention of the government to table a referendum bill on the matter later in this legislative session.
“What has been made evidently clear through this entire process is that there are varied views on the issue of same-sex marriage and civil unions in parliament and throughout our community.
“Recognising that this is a very complex and difficult issue for many in the community, we are committed to extending the consultative process so that the people of this country can express their opinions on same-sex marriage and civil unions via a referendum.”
Dunkley said that his government is of the view that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, which is why “we have tabled in the House the Matrimonial Causes Amendment Act 2016, which will strengthen that act.
“I recognise that there is an incredible passion and emotion about same-sex unions. I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone for allowing us to do the considerable soul-searching and reflection regarding this issue.”
The last referendum held in Bermuda was in 1995, when then-premier Sir John Swan of the now-defunct United Bermuda Party, pushed for independence but almost three-quarters of voters rejected cutting ties with Britain.
The rejection led Sir John, who was premier for 13 years, to call time on his political career and little has happened in the intervening 21 years to change Bermudians’ minds on the issue.