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What Does Bermuda's New Law Banning Same-Sex Marriage Mean?


We're going to turn our attention now to Bermuda. The British territory recently announced that it will no longer allow same-sex couples to marry. And this comes just nine months after legalizing those unions. Instead, under the Domestic Partnership Act signed by Bermuda's Governor John Rankin last Wednesday, same-sex couples can only enter into domestic partnerships. To understand what this means for Bermuda, we called Jonathan Bell. He's a senior reporter for the newspaper The Royal Gazette. He's with us now from Bermuda. Jonathan, thanks so much for speaking with us.

JONATHAN BELL: Good afternoon.

MARTIN: So what happened here?

BELL: To begin with - and this is a factual error that I made as a reporter - we didn't exactly legalize same-sex marriage. It wasn't on the books per se. There was a ruling in the courts in May of last year that challenged it. And the term that we use for it is that that ruling paved the way for same-sex marriage to happen. I believe there have been eight of them and a number on permit Bermuda-registered ships. But what has now happened is we've had a piece of legislation that has specifically ruled out the possibility of same-sex marriage.

MARTIN: Was there any polling taken on this? Do you have any sense of how widespread the opposition is or was?

BELL: I mean, it's pretty widespread. It always has been. There was a referendum on it. Gosh, I can't even remember - it was within the last couple of years. While they didn't get the full 50 percent of the registered voters to make it an official referendum, you know, people overwhelmingly turned down both same-sex marriage and civil unions. You know, a lot of people here are religious and quite conservative, so there was the sense that things were just moving too quickly for Bermuda.

MARTIN: And you said that there were about eight couples who had gotten married since...

BELL: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...In that sort of intermediate period there. What happens to them? Are their marriages still recognized? Will they still be recognized?

BELL: They're still recognized, yeah. So at least, I mean, those haven't been taken away or anything.

MARTIN: The Guardian newspaper quotes Bermuda's Minister of Home Affairs, Walton Brown, and he says that this is an attempt to kind of balance public opinion in Bermuda with European court rulings that require recognition and protection for same-sex couples in the territory because this is considered a human right in Europe as of this moment. What is your - forgive me for asking for an opinion from you - but what is your opinion? Do you think that this will be considered a fair balance? Do you have any sense of whether the groups that challenged this initially will continue to or whether this will be considered kind of an appropriate compromise?

BELL: Mr. Brown - I mean, I spoke with him fairly recent on it, and he's come out in support in parliament in the past of same-sex marriage. That's his personal opinion. So he characterizes it as a sort of mutually unsatisfying compromise. Neither side is really happy with it. It's - we've got to come up with something, and this is what we came up with. In fact, the lawyer who shepherded the original challenge in our Supreme Court - I spoke with him a few days ago and already, potential litigants have come forward to challenge the Domestic Partnership Act. So I mean, that will be a long, drawn-out legal process, but I suspect ultimately the courts are going to have to do what our legislators are unwilling or just don't want to do, and much of the voters so far don't seem to demand of them.

MARTIN: That's Jonathan Bell. He's a senior reporter for The Royal Gazette. We reached him in his newsroom in Bermuda. Jonathan Bell, thank you so much for speaking with us.

BELL: Oh, thank you. Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.