In an unusual move, Bermuda has abolished same-sex marriage less than a year after it was legalized, replacing the same-sex unions with domestic partnerships.
Bermuda Gov. John Rankin signed a bill into law Wednesday that reverses an earlier Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. The new law gives domestic partners in the British island territory similar rights as married couples — but without the legal title.
The Government of Bermuda said the Domestic Partnership Act 2017 is “intended to strike a fair balance” between opposing parties on the conservative island.
“While the majority of Bermudians do not agree with same-sex marriage,” according to a statement on the government's website, “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 recognizing and protecting the rights of same-sex couples.”
The British government said it disapproved of the move but could not rightfully intervene, and critics of the new law called it a dark day for civil rights in Bermuda.
“This is not equality,” Joe Gibbons, a gay Bermudian who is married, told the Guardian. “And the British government has obviously just said, ‘This is not our fight.’ ”
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain was “seriously disappointed” by the new law, according to the Associated Press.
Rankin, Bermuda's governor, was appointed by the United Kingdom.
Bermuda, home to some 70,000 people, is one of 14 British Overseas Territories, most of which are self-governing and rely on the United Kingdom for foreign relations and military defense.
Same-sex marriage has been a sensitive issue in the island territory. Despite the fact that voters rejected same-sex marriage in a referendum, the Supreme Court of Bermuda ruled in May 2017 that same-sex couples could legally wed.
But in December, Bermuda's Senate and House of Assembly approved the Domestic Partnership Act — and on Wednesday, the governor signed it.
“After careful consideration in line with my responsibilities under the Constitution, I have today given assent to the Domestic Partnership Act 2017,” Rankin said in an announcement, according to the local site, Bernews.
A spokeswoman for the U.K.'s Foreign Office said in a statement to The Washington Post that “the introduction of same-sex marriage last year put Bermuda among the most progressive countries in the region in terms of LGBT equality. It is therefore disappointing to see them taking a step backwards and removing the right for same-sex couples to marry in Bermuda.”
The statement added that although “the U.K regrets that Bermuda has chosen this course, we also respect and believe in their right to self-government.”
Since the Supreme Court of Bermuda's ruling, a handful of same-sex couples have wed, according to the Associated Press. Under the new law, those couples will still be recognized as married.
The Bermudan government said this week that the Domestic Partnership Act guarantees gay couples “equivalent” rights as married couples when it comes to inheritance, pensions and property, as well as the right to make important medical decisions for the other partner.
The Human Rights Campaign denounced the new law.
“Governor Rankin and the Bermuda Parliament have shamefully made Bermuda the first national territory in the world to repeal marriage equality,” Ty Cobb, director of Human Rights Campaign Global, said in a statement. “This decision strips loving same-sex couples of the right to marry and jeopardizes Bermuda’s international reputation and economy. 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.”
This report has been updated.