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Island misses out on UK’s gay marriage move

By Sam Strangeways, for The Royal Gazette

Campaigners have labelled as “unfair” new legislation allowing same-sex couples to legally marry under British law in 23 countries — but not in Bermuda.

If you are gay and British and living in Azerbaijan, for example, you can now get hitched at the British consulate there.

The same applies in Australia, Bolivia, Cambodia, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Japan, Kosovo, Latvia, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nicaragua, Peru, Philippines, Russia, San Marino, Serbia and Vietnam.

But in Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory, the option isn’t available. The Island has no British consulate or embassy and is not considered a foreign country by the UK. In that regard, only its own marriage laws apply — just like other places under the sovereignty of the UK.

“It’s unfair,” Sylvia Hayward-Harris, from campaign group Two Words and a Comma, told The Royal Gazette. “It’s a real anomaly. It’s very strange. It’s unfair that if you live in [one of the 23 countries] you can marry and you can’t here.

“That actually would need to be addressed by somebody. The scale should be tipped on the side of equality and fairness.”

Ms Hayward-Harris, a pastor who has had requests to marry gay couples here but is not allowed, said the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should “absolutely” look at and address the disparity.

“It’s merely a technical matter,” she added. “Once you are in a UK consulate, you are technically in UK territory. We don’t have a consulate here, so that’s where the problem lies.”

Legislation to allow same-sex marriage in England and Wales came into force in March and was recently approved in Scotland.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper in the UK reported last month that the Foreign Office was now offering same-sex marriages in 23 countries where same-sex marriage was not legal and where “local authorities” had given permission for the ceremonies to be conducted.

According to The Telegraph, the world’s first same-sex marriage under British law to be conducted outside Britain took place in Sydney last week.

“While the UK Parliament has passed legislation establishing same-sex marriage in England and Wales, this does not affect Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Crown Dependencies or Overseas Territories, where following suit or not will be a matter for the other legislatures concerned,” Governor George Fergusson said.

“As marriage law in Bermuda is a matter for the Bermuda legislature and not the UK Government, Government House doesn’t have a role in conducting civil marriages, same sex or otherwise.

“And, of course, the UK doesn’t have embassies or high commissions in Overseas Territories — or Crown Dependencies or the devolved UK countries.”

Seventeen countries have enabled same-sex marriages, along with parts of the US and Mexico.

Ms Hayward-Harris said the question of whether Bermuda legally recognised same-sex unions conducted in those countries came up at the US Consulate’s recent conference on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.

“Nobody had any answers,” she said, stressing that she was speaking in a personal capacity on the issue. “We don’t know what will happen now Britain has changed its law. Couples will wed in Britain and come to Bermuda. What happens to them? This is a real grey area that needs some clarification.”

Opposition MP Walton Brown, who supports the introduction of same-sex marriage in Bermuda, said the Island did not recognise any same-sex marriage, regardless of where it was conducted.

Mr Brown, speaking personally and not on behalf of the PLP, said last year’s change to the Human Rights Act to protect against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation provided only “partial equality”.

“If we move to a position where we actually believe that people, irrespective of sexual orientation, should have more rights, then those rights should be equal to heterosexuals.

“You can’t endorse equality of rights and not provide those rights across the board,” he said.

“People who have been victims of oppression should never support the oppression of others.”

Premier Michael Dunkley said in 2012 that he did not support it because “marriage to me is a union between a man and a woman”.

Responding to questions on whether the Premier’s views on the subject had changed, a Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: “As has been previously stated, same-sex marriage is not currently on Government’s agenda.

“As an additional note, the Premier is of the view that since coming to office in 2012, the Government has advocated strongly for the rights of all Bermudians, and contends that Government has done much to advance human rights in Bermuda.”


Source: The Royal Gazette

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