Bermuda has become the first country ever to repeal same-sex marriage. The British island territory’s Supreme Court ruled it legal in May of 2017, but legislation repealing that decision was approved in December. This week, Governor John Rankin signed the legislation into law, rolling back the civil rights of its citizens.
The Guardian reports that the majority of both the Senate and House of Assembly supported the legislation, as well as voters polled in a referendum. The island is largely conservative, and only about half a dozen same-sex marriages took place after it was initially legalized in 2017. These unions will now be considered domestic partnerships.
Both Governor Rankin and British foreign secretary Boris Johnson were lobbied by LGBT rights groups, who asked that the British government withhold permission for the change, though territories generally have self-governance. They refused. The repeal has been criticized by some MPs as a knock against the UK’s work to advance LGBT rights and marriage equality:
Walton Brown, the minister of home affairs, conversely argued that the repeal is a compromise, as domestic partnerships will offer “equivalent” rights to same-sex couples:
“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 at the same time recognising and protecting the rights of same-sex couples,” said Brown, whose ruling PLP party proposed the repeal.
Rankin offered only a brief statement on the official repeal, saying, “After careful consideration in line with my responsibilities under the constitution, I have today given assent to the Domestic Partnership Act 2017.”
The Independent reports that Prime Minister Theresa May has expressed regrets over Bermuda’s decision, but supports the choice not to intervene:
“We are seriously disappointed that the Domestic Partnership Bill removes the right for same-sex couples to marry in Bermuda.
“But that Bill has been democratically passed by the Parliament of Bermuda, and our relationship with the overseas territories is based on partnership and respect for their right to democratic self-government.”
The UK has not intervened in Bermuda’s parliamentary process since it introduced its own constitution in 1968.