Governor seeks legal opinions on controversial bill

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HAMILTON, Bermuda, Dec 30, CMC  — Governor John Rankin is continuing to take legal advice on giving assent to a controversial bill designed to replace same-sex marriage with “watered-down” domestic partnerships in this British Overseas Territory.
Government House confirmed that Rankin had asked for legal opinions on the Domestic Partnership Bill in line with provisions in the island’s constitution.
“The Governor is continuing to consider the bill in accordance with Section 35(2) of the constitution. In considering the bill, he is taking legal advice as appropriate,” a spokesman said Friday.
The Domestic Partnership Bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament earlier this month in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling in May that paved the way for same-sex couples to marry in Bermuda.
The constitution does not stipulate a time frame for assenting to Bills.
Sources said legal arguments over whether the bill is in line with the constitution, and international obligations, have to be considered.
The British Foreign Office said this month while the UK government is disappointed with the implications of this bill, “this is a matter for the Bermuda government acting within the terms of the Bermuda constitution and in accordance with international law.”
Section 35 (2) of the constitution outlines procedures for the Governor to sign a bill. He has to signify that he assents or that he withholds assent or that he “reserves the bill for the signification of Her Majesty’s pleasure”.
The Governor has to “reserve for the signification of Her Majesty’s pleasure any bill which appears to him, acting in his discretion … to be inconsistent with any obligation of Her Majesty or of Her Majesty’s government in the United Kingdom towards any other state or power or any international organisation”.
The section also allows the Governor to refuse to sign a bill that is considered to be “in any way repugnant to or inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution”.
The Ministry of Home Affairs earlier confirmed that four gay couples planning to marry at sea on Bermuda-registered ships would be able to tie the knot despite the ruling Progressive Labour Party’s (PLP) push to end marriage equality.
Marriage banns were posted by the Registrar-General for the unions, with two of the ceremonies due to take place this month and a further two in January.
The One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) was still in power when gay marriages were approved but the OBA was heavily defeated by the Progressive Labour Party in July’s general election. Bermudians had overwhelmingly rejected same-sex marriage in a referendum last year.
The first gay couple to wed here were Bermudian lawyer Julia Saltus and her Ghanaian-American partner Judith Aidoo, who spoke out against the plan to reverse the court ruling.
The most recent couple were two men, one of whom was Bermudian, who tied the knot in the Registry-General’s marriage room.
The Supreme Court ruling of May 5 by Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons cleared the way for Bermudian Winston Godwin and his Canadian partner Greg DeRoche to tie the knot, but in the event they married in Toronto on May 20, saying that their legal battle had been about forcing overdue change in Bermuda.
Chris Bryant, a former British Labour government Overseas Territories Minister, has been quoted by a British Sunday newspaper as saying, if approved, the law would make Bermuda the first country in the world to cancel gay marriage after previously allowing it.
Meanwhile, as Bermuda awaits the Governor’s decision, the Royal Gazette newspaper said the tiny South Atlantic Ocean island of St Helena, also a British Overseas Territory, had approved same-sex marriage by a parliamentary vote of 9-2.

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