In a first, Bermuda just repealed gay marriage

In 2017, Bermuda followed a pattern seen in many nations when their Supreme Court ordered that same-sex marriage be legally recognized across the island. Given trends in other countries these days, that wasn’t much of a shock. The real surprise came this week when Bermuda’s legislature overwhelmingly passed a “repeal and replace” of gay marriage and the Governor signed it into law. (Washington Times)

The British territory of Bermuda has become the first jurisdiction to roll back same-sex marriage, less than one year after the unions were legalized by the socially conservative island’s supreme court.

Governor John Rankin signed the Domestic Partnership Act into law Wednesday reversing the rights of same-sex partners to wed. The legislation allows any couple to enter into a domestic partnership and gives same-sex couples similar rights to those enjoyed by opposite-sex couples. But such partnerships will not be legally recognized as “marriage.”

“The Act is intended to strike a fair balance between two irreconcilable groups in Bermuda, by restating that marriage must be between a male and a female while at the same time recognizing and protecting the rights of same-sex couples,” the governor’s office said in a statement posted to its website.

Bermuda remains a British territory, but they have limited self-governance, allowing them the ability to create and modify their own laws. (Changes to their constitution must still be approved by the Queen and she appoints the island’s governor.) That’s why Theresa May can’t really do anything about this aside from voice her disapproval. And the territory appears to be dodging problems with the Supreme Court by replacing gay marriage with “domestic partnerships” which convey most of the same rights without calling it marriage. Stop me if this sounds familiar.

Culturally, Bermuda seems rather conservative, at least on social issues such as this. Polling indicates that nearly 70% of citizens oppose same-sex marriage and their legislature was easily able to push this initiative through. On the plus side for the small number of gay couples who managed to marry over the past year, the Governor said that their marriages will continue to be recognized.

Not to continue ringing the same old bell here, but what we’re seeing in Bermuda is a side effect of the same questions which hang over the gay marriage debate in the United States to this day. By choosing to “legalize” gay marriage, we have assigned credibility to the notion that the government has the power to so closely regulate the private actions of citizens that it can charge them a tax and demand they qualify for a license just to be married. Few human activities are more personal to only two people than a commitment ceremony and celebration put on before close friends and family. We wouldn’t have had these debates ripping up American society if we had simply stricken the word marriage from nearly all of our laws (with the exception of a couple of protections against pedophiles and monsters using marriage as a cover for taking child brides or abusing those unable to give meaningful consent).

Why does that matter? Because, as you just saw in Bermuda, once you give the government the power to grant something, you implicitly give it the power to take it away. So much for being “on the right side of history” I guess.