Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, shrugged off criticism yesterday as he tabled a Bill to give gay couples a watered-down option of “domestic partnerships” instead of marriage.
Mr Brown, who said the Domestic Partnerships Bill would be debated by MPs on December 8, responded to accusations that the consultation process to discuss it was too short.
He insisted that the three-week consultation period was “adequate” and revealed that the ministry had received more than 3,000 e-mails.
Mr Brown was speaking after the Human Rights Commission on Monday said the issue should have been given “a longer consultation period to allow for comprehensive analysis and feedback”.
Mr Brown maintained that changes had been made to the draft Act as a result of the consultation process.
He told The Royal Gazette: “There are changes in the wording that have been made after the consultation process. For example, the word ‘celebrant’ has been replaced by domestic partnership officer.
“There have also been some technical changes, while the Act now also identifies the date from which overseas marriages will be recognised, which has implications going forward.”
Mr Brown said the Act was designed to extend a range of legal benefits to same-sex couples, “in fact more so than they have under current legislation”.
He added: “We are at this point legislatively because we have a rift in our community between two competing positions — one is in support of same-sex marriage, the other is fundamentally opposed to it and they view marriage between a man and a woman.
“The immediate political consequence is that there was a very real likelihood that a Private Member’s Bill would have been tabled in Parliament which would have outlawed same-sex marriage and afforded no rights whatsoever to same-sex couples.
“The majority of MPs would have supported that Bill and we would have been in a position that was fundamentally contrary to what is currently in place.”
Mr Brown said that the Government had taken “leadership” to ensure that same-sex couples had their legal rights protected. He added: “What we have before us today represents a series of amendments to the proposed legislation as a result of a consultative process.
“We believe this is the ideal way forward at this time and we hope that the Bermuda public will at some point come to fully understand and appreciate the steps which this government has taken.”
He added: “What this Bill does is address the silences in the current legal framework.”
• To read the Domestic Partnership Act, click on the PDF under “Related Media”