Same-sex marriage in Bermuda was outlawed yesterday after the Governor gave Royal Assent to an Act designed to replace it with civil partnerships.
John Rankin signed the legislation 61 days after it was backed in the House of Assembly and 56 days in the wake of its approval by Senate.
Mr Rankin said the Domestic Partnership Act was signed into law “after careful consideration in line with my responsibilities under the Constitution”.
The move ended weeks of speculation over whether Britain would allow the legislation, and dashed the hopes of activists in Bermuda and overseas who had asked Mr Rankin to reject the new law.
Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, speaking from London last night said that he was pleased the green light had been given to domestic partnerships, which will be available to both gay and heterosexual couples.
He added: “The Act is intended to strike a fair balance between two currently irreconcilable groups in Bermuda, by restating that marriage must be between a male and a female, while recognising and protecting the rights of same-sex couples.”
Mr Brown said that same-sex couples already married under Bermuda law will continue to be recognised as married.
He added that “any overseas same-sex marriages taking place before and during the transitional period will also be capable of recognition as marriages in Bermuda”.
The island came under the international spotlight over the controversy and it was branded the first country to outlaw same-sex marriage after it was backed by the courts.
But Mr Brown said the introduction of the legislation made Bermuda, an associate member of the Caribbean organisation Caricom, “among the first English-speaking Caribbean islands to introduce and pass a law that provides legal recognition to same-sex couples”.
He added the partnerships will give same-sex couples rights “equivalent to those enjoyed by heterosexual married couples — rights that were not guaranteed before the passage of this Act”.
Mr Brown said guaranteed rights include “the right to inherit in the case of no will, the right to a partner’s pensions, access to property rights, the right to make medical decisions on behalf of one’s partner and the right to live and work in Bermuda as the domestic partner of a Bermudian”.
Bermuda’s same-sex marriage row went as far as the UK House of Commons.
Sir Alan Duncan, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, said during a debate on the subject last month that Britain was “disappointed” by Bermuda’s decision to reverse marriage equality.
The controversial legislation was introduced in November 2017 by Mr Brown in the wake of a bitter national debate over allowing same-sex couples to wed.
It followed a landmark decision by the Supreme Court in May 2017, when Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons ruled that the island’s Registrar-General could not reject a gay couple’s application to marry in Bermuda.
The decision paved the way for same-sex marriage on the island and the first gay couple exchanged vows at the Registrar-General’s office less than a month later.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Home Affairs said the Act gives rights and benefits to domestic partnerships that were “almost exactly the same as the rights and benefits of marriage”.
She said: “Clause 50 states that where the words specified in the table, which include marriage, spouse, husband, wife, widow and widower, are mentioned throughout Bermuda legislation, these are to be read in the case of a person in a domestic partnership as the corresponding word specified, that is domestic partnership, domestic partner or surviving domestic partner.
“Clause 50 also provides that references to next of kin and relative include a domestic partner.”
Same-sex marriage and civil unions were voted on in a non-binding referendum in June 2016.
The referendum failed to attract the 50 per cent minimum of registered voters needed to rule that questions were “answered”.
But those who did vote rejected both same-sex marriage and civil unions by a margin of more than two to one.
Mr Brown said last night the referendum showed that the majority of Bermudians did not support same-sex marriage.
He added it was the Government’s belief that “this Act addresses this position while also complying with the European courts by ensuring that recognition and protection for same-sex couples are put in place”.
He added: “Bermuda will continue to live up to its well-earned reputation as a friendly and welcoming place, where all visitors, including LGBT visitors, will continue to enjoy our beauty, our warm hospitality and inclusive culture.”