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Bermuda becomes first country to repeal marriage equality

by Heather Cassell

Bermuda Governor John Rankin. Photo: Courtesy the Royal Gazette
Bermuda Governor John Rankin. Photo: Courtesy the Royal Gazette   

The territory, which repealed the law February 7, has become the first to legalize and then reverse same-sex marriage in under a year.

The new law bars same-sex couples from marrying, but legally recognizes same-sex couples' domestic partnerships.

"After careful consideration in line with my responsibilities under the constitution, I have today given assent to the Domestic Partnership Act 2017," Bermuda Governor John Rankin said in a statement after signing the domestic partnership bill into law Wednesday.

He said the new law reflected opposition to same-sex marriage among voters. In 2016, Bermudians voted against same-sex marriage in a referendum.

Britain's oldest territory received much criticism leading up to Rankin signing the bill, especially from British gay Member of Parliament Chris Bryant and LGBT activists.

Last month, Bryant, 56, a member of the Labour Party, called the bill "deeply unpleasant" and a "very cynical piece of legislation" while arguing before the House of Commons during a debate over it.

Following Rankin's signing off on the bill, Bryant tweeted that it would "undermine [the] UK effort to advance LGBT rights."

British Prime Minister Theresa May also expressed her dismay, and said she was "seriously disappointed," according to the New York Times. However, the Foreign Office said Thursday it would be inappropriate to block the measure.

Britain legalized same-sex marriage in 2014. Some territories, such as Isle of Man and Malta, legalized marriage equality in 2017, while other territories, such as Northern Ireland, have not. Marriage equality has been a divisive topic among British Commonwealth nations, which are autonomous but rely on the crown to defend them and represent them internationally.

For nearly two months, the bill sat on Rankin's desk waiting to be vetoed or signed into law.

In May 2017, Bermuda's Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage on the Caribbean island. It also applies to cruise ships that make port there. The bill reversing the court's decision was passed by Bermuda's House of Assembly and Senate in December.

Bermuda's Minister of Home Affairs Walton Brown told the Guardian that Rankin's signature struck a balance between the conservative island's residents and the island's responsibilities to the European Union.

A majority of the island's 60,000 residents oppose same-sex marriage.

"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 recognizing and protecting the rights of same-sex couples," Brown told the Guardian.

Marriage equality opponents rejoiced at the signing of the law and commended Bermuda's government.

"Although Preserve Marriage does not condone any legal union which may provide legal footing for same-sex marriage, we do wish to commend the government on being the first and only government in the world to reverse the laws on same-sex marriage," Melvyn Bassett, chairman of Preserve Marriage Bermuda, told the Royal Gazette.

Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, praised Bermuda's government in a February 9 news release from the organization.

"The people of Bermuda recognize the folly of redefining marriages and reversed the ruling of their Supreme Court," he said, calling the institution the "foundation of society," and claiming, "children do best when raised by a mother and a father." (Many studies dispute this claim, concluding that children raised in same-sex households do as well as their peers.)

Disappointment and dismay
LGBT Bermudians expressed disappointment with the passage of the law.

"I feel enormously disappointed," Joe Gibbons, a 64-year-old married gay Bermudian, told the Gazette. "This is not equality, and the British government has obviously just said, 'This is not our fight.'"

Bermudian lesbian inn owner Faith Bridges told the Times she, too, was disappointed by her government and the outcome of the legislation.

"I had hoped our local government would not have allowed the majority to decide on a human rights issue," said Bridges, who is in a long-distant relationship with a woman in Kansas.

Gibbons and about half a dozen same-sex marriages that occurred during legalization on the island will remain in tact under the new law.

Bridges expressed defiance.

"I will love who I choose to love and I will marry who I choose to marry," she said. "If I can't do it in my country I will do it in another."

Representatives of cruise companies Cunard and P&O Cruises stated they were "very unhappy" about the reversal of same-sex marriage in Bermuda. The cruise lines stated it would now offer "commitment" ceremonies in place of weddings.

Last year, Bermuda's tourism authority warned that the bill posed an "unnecessary threat" to the tourism industry, which is the island's second biggest economy, reported BuzzFeed.

As soon as the news hit the internet, LGBT travelers started announcing cancellation of trips and boycotts of Bermuda.

However angry LGBT travelers are, Bridges urged them not to boycott Bermuda, stating it would be counterproductive.

Global LGBT rights groups denounced the law.

Ty Cobb, director of Human Rights Campaign Global, and Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, expressed their disapproval of the law, calling it "shameful."

"As the world faces a resurgence of anti-LGBTQ activism, Bermuda just earned the shameful recognition of becoming the first national territory to strip away marriage from loving and committed LGBTQ couples," said Ellis.

Cobb agreed, but was defiant.

"Despite this deplorable action, the fight for marriage equality in Bermuda will continue until the day when every Bermudian is afforded the right to marry the person they love," he said.

Indonesia's ongoing crackdown heats up ahead of controversial sex ban
Indonesia is receiving harsh criticism from international governing bodies and LGBT activists leading up the potential passage of a controversial bill that will ban any type of sex that isn't within the bounds of marriage.

In December, Indonesia's Constitutional Court rejected the ban, but the court also advised the petitioners, the Family Love Alliance of Indonesia, better known as Aila, to look to Parliament if they wanted the sweeping ban on nonmarital sex.

Aila's leaders took the court's advice and now Parliament is poised to debate a sweeping ban on adultery, premarital sex, and homosexuality.

Homosexuality isn't illegal in the most populous Muslim country in the world, other than in the Aceh province, where Islamic law bans it. However, same-sex relationships are socially taboo.

A survey last month found that nearly 90 percent of Indonesians who know what the term LGBT means stated they feel "threatened" by the community and believe that their religion forbids same-sex relations.

The most recent revisions to Indonesia's criminal code include same-sex acts in public carrying a sentence of up to 18 months in prison if convicted, and up to nine years if there is evidence of abuse or video of the act.

Heterosexual couples could face up to six months in prison if found living together out of wedlock, and two years for having sex outside of marriage.

The changes have garnered support from most political parties in the Parliament, particularly the anti-LGBT laws.

A parliamentary commission has tapped religious and academic scholars, legal experts, and civil society rights groups to consult on the changes to the laws during the drafting stages, reported the Straits Times.

Leading up to the debate Google removed its largest gay dating app in its Indonesian store. Earlier this month the country's Health Ministry classified homosexuality as a "mental disorder." In Aceh, transgender hairstylists were publicly beaten by police, who shaved their heads and forced them to wear men's clothes, which was all caught on video.

Last week, the government issued a circular banning transgender women from working in the salons.

The incidents are the renewal of a crackdown that started about two years ago. Police have used a harsh anti-pornography law to criminalize members of the LGBT community while government officials, religious conservatives, and Islamic groups have made anti-gay public statements has drawn sharp criticism from global human rights organizations and international governing organizations.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein spoke to reporters at a news conference in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital city, following a three-day visit last week.

"The hateful rhetoric against this community that is being cultivated seemingly for cynical political purposes will only deepen their suffering and create unnecessary divisions," he said, reported the Global Times.

Ichsan Soelistio, a member of a special commission in the Indonesian House of Representatives, told the Washington Post that faced with unidentified political realities, the proposed legal changes would be the best way to protect LGBT and other at-risk communities.

"We are not banning gay people," Soelistio said. "We are trying to give them freedom within certain limits."

Indonesian LGBT activists expressed concern, especially following the government's reasoning for the crackdown to protect the country's LGBT citizens.

"Six months ago, I would have thought it very unlikely a law like this would actually be passed. Now we have little reason to feel optimistic," said LGBT rights activist Lini, who works for Rainbow Flow, an LGBT rights organization.

Lini declined to be identified by her full name for safety reasons, according to the Washington Post.

Indonesians argue that the country's criminal code hasn't been updated since it was a Dutch colony before World War II, the paper reported.

A date to debate changes to the penal code hasn't been set yet. Lawmakers are still revising the amendments to the code.

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell or oitwnews@gmail.com.

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