Bermuda’s decision to ban same-sex marriage six months after it was introduced could be blocked by the UK Government.
Commonwealth Minister Lord Ahmad refused to say whether the British Governor to Bermuda would sign the new ban on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government.
Lord Ahmad told the Foreign Affairs select committee Bermuda’s Premier has been told “in no uncertain terms” that Britain believes same-sex marriage is a “human right”.
The parliamentary dependancy voted to replace marriage with civil partnerships late last year.
Questioned by Labour MP Chris Bryant, the minister said: “It is of deep concern to us that we have positive traction with Bermuda, and that is an issue that I raised directly with the Premier when I met him just after the JMC.
“They know of our deep concern in that respect. I don’t know if your subsequent question will be about whether we will impose something on Bermuda, but we are clear on where we stand on the issue of same-sex marriage: it is a human right of any individual.
“That point has been made in no uncertain terms to the Premier, and he is aware of the British Government’s position on that.”
When Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, the committee’s chair, interjected to suggest the minister was saying “No, he won’t sign it”, Lord Ahmad responded: “We are discussing this with the Minister and the Governor at the moment, because it is important that this is based on the constitution of Bermuda and the legal position.
He added: “It has not been finalised yet, but we are certainly aiming to do that shortly.”
Governors sign laws on behalf of the Queen in country’s where she is head of state, and it is customary that the parliament’s decisions are implemented.
A bill cannot become law without being signed on behalf of the Queen, and refusing to sign the Bermudan parliament’s decision would be a major break with convention.
The bill to replace same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships was approved without amendment in December, by 24 votes for and 10 against.
The bill will not roll back same-sex marriages that have already taken place since same-sex marriage became legal six months earlier following a Supreme Court ruling.
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If implemented, the law will have a major affect on cruise ships domiciled In Bermuda which had begun offering same-sex wedding ceremonies on board.
Speaking during Bermuda’s debate on the issue, Progressive Labour Party (PLP) backbencher Lawrence Scott said the bill gives “the LGBTQ community the benefits it has been asking for”, but maintains “the traditional definition of marriage”.
Adding: “As it stands now, they can have the name marriage but without the benefits. But after this Bill passes, they have the benefits and just not the name marriage. The benefits are what they really want.”
Shadow home affairs minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin spoke against the bill, however; saying a group should not be given rights just to have them removed again.
“I don’t like to accept that it is OK for us to treat our sisters and brothers differently, whether fair or unfair, to treat them differently under similar circumstances.”
Melvyn Bassett, president of anti-gay marriage group Preserve Marriage said before the vote said that he believed it wouldn’t matter either way, that the bill would pass whether the MPs were whipped or not.
Same-sex marriage originally passed in Bermuda in May, after Bermudian native Winston Godwin and his Canadian fiancé Greg DeRoche took their case to the Supreme Court.
The Human Rights Commission and the Rainbow Alliance of Bermuda had criticised the bill, calling it a “removal of rights” for gay couples.