Good morning and thank you for joining me.
As you’re aware this morning, the Minister of Community, Culture and Sport, the Hon. Patricia Gordon-Pamplin tabled the draft Civil Union Bill 2016 for Consultation in the House of Assembly. The aim of tabling the draft legislation is so that we can have the widest possible discussion and consultation on this matter, not just with our Parliamentary colleagues on both sides of the aisle, but with the broader public.
You also heard the Minister highlight that the issue of same-sex marriage and civil unions is at the forefront of our national conversation because today the Supreme Court ruling regarding the Bermuda Bred Company vs Minister of Home Affairs and Attorney General takes effect. The landmark ruling means that the non-Bermudian same-sex partners of Bermudians, who are in permanent relationships, are entitled to live and work in Bermuda free of immigration control.
I think it’s very important to mention that prior to the Supreme Court ruling, Government has sought to do its due diligence to review and assess the issue of same sex unions by engaging in a very intensive consultative process. This included:
- A series of public information sessions;
- The sharing of extensive research with the public on how other jurisdictions have sought to approach and reconcile this matter;
- Outlining Bermuda’s international legal responsibility;
- The proposed way that the Bermuda Government could implement and manage civil unions; and
- Meeting with advocacy groups and individuals for and against same-sex marriage and civil unions, all with the aim of listening to all sectors of the community on this very sensitive matter.
And my colleagues and I have been tremendously appreciative with all the feedback we have received. That said, as directed by the Supreme Court ruling, the Government is required to recognize same sex couples in a permanent relationship. This Government believes in upholding fundamental and basic human rights.
As such Government has an obligation to bring the matter of same-sex unions to a resolution. And in order to get the widest possible reach of views from the people it is the intention of this Government to table a Referendum Bill on the matter later in this legislative session.
What has been made evidently clear through this entire process is that there are varying views on the issue of same-sex marriage and civil unions – in Parliament and throughout our community.
Recognising that this is a very complex and difficult issue for many in our community we are committed to extending the consultative process so that the people of this Country can express their opinions on same-sex marriage and civil unions via a Referendum.
As a final and important point, this Government is of the view that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, which is why we tabled in the House the Matrimonial Causes Amendment Act 2016 to strengthen the Act.
As I close, I recognize that there is incredible passion and emotion about same-sex unions. I want to personally say that there has been considerable soul-searching and reflection regarding this issue.
And I want to thank each and every person who has called, written or stopped me or my colleagues in the street to share their feelings about this matter. Thank you for sharing your stories, your views and your heartfelt experiences.
As a Government we have tried to approach this issue with sincerity, compassion, empathy and sensitivity.
Government has a responsibility to make the best decisions for the benefit and betterment of this Country and its people and we must continue to seek and incorporate as much feedback and input from the public as possible.