The disappointing decision comes less than a year after same-sex marriage was legalised in the North Atlantic British Overseas Territory.
In an unprecedented move, Bermuda has become the first country to legalise and then repeal same-sex marriage.
The island nation and North Atlantic British Overseas Territory’s Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage last year with a landmark ruling, after it deemed a ban on such a union a discriminatory violation of human rights.
Today, Governor John Rankin signed a bill replacing the legislation with The Domestic Partnership Act, which will allow gay and straight couples to form domestic partnerships in the government’s attempt at offering “equal rights”.
Same-sex couples who wed since last May will not have their marriage annulled.
Walton Brown – minister of home affairs – said the ruling aims to balance opposition to same-sex marriage with European court rulings, ensuring recognition and protection for same sex-couples on the socially conservative island.
“The Domestic Partnership Act permits any couple (heterosexual or homosexual) to enter into a domestic partnership and gives same-sex couples rights equivalent to those enjoyed by heterosexual married couples; rights that were not guaranteed before the passage of this Act,” said Brown.
“The rights now guaranteed under the Domestic Partnership Act include: the right to inherit in the case of no will, the right to a partner’s pension(s), access to property rights, the right to make medical decisions on behalf of one’s partner and the right to live and work in Bermuda as the domestic partner of a Bermudian.
“While the majority of Bermudians do not agree with same-sex marriage — as evidenced by the referendum — it is the Government’s belief that this Act addresses this position while also complying with the European Courts by ensuring that recognition and protection for same sex couples are put in place.
“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.”
He added: “Same-sex couples already married under Bermuda law before the commencement date of this Act will continue to be recognised as being married. Also, any overseas same sex marriages taking place before and during the transitional period will also be capable of recognition as marriages in Bermuda.
“Bermuda will continue to live up to its well-earned reputation as a friendly and welcoming place, where all visitors, including LGBT visitors, will continue to enjoy our beauty, our warm hospitality and inclusive culture.”
The ruling has met with widespread backlash from international human rights groups, who claim the decision contradicts Bermuda’s constitution of protecting its citizens from discrimination.
Ty Cobb – director of Human Rights Campaign Global – said: “Governor Rankin and the Bermuda parliament have shamefully made Bermuda the first national territory in the world to repeal marriage equality.
“This decision strips loving same-sex couples of the right to marry and jeopardises Bermuda’s international reputation and economy.”
Labor MP Chris Bryant labelled the bill a “deeply unpleasant and very cynical piece of legislation.” He also tweeted: “So Boris Johnson has granted permission to Bermuda to abolish same sex marriage. This totally undermines UK effort to advance LGBT rights.”
The UK’s lack of intervention has also been met with disappointment.
“I feel enormously disappointed,” said 64-year-old married gay Bermudian Joe Gibbons. “This is not equality, and the British government has obviously just said, ‘this is not our fight.'”
In December, a Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The UK Government is a proud supporter of LGBT rights and continues to support same-sex marriage. While the UK Government is disappointed with the implications of this bill, this is a matter for the Bermuda government acting within the terms of the Bermuda constitution and in accordance with international law.”