A Bermudian activist wants the UK to stop his own country’s marriage equality ban

Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche successfully sued Bermuda for the right to marry earlier this year. Twitter/Rainbow Alliance

A Bermudian gay activist is asking Queen Elizabeth II’s representative to reject his country’s marriage equality ban, a law that could make the North Atlantic island the first country to end marriage equality.

In May, a supreme court judge ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage violates the Bermudian Human Rights Act in a case brought by Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche.

But strong opposition to marriage equality remained, and over the last two weeks the Bermudian legislature passed a bill that would end marriage equality and replace it with domestic partnerships.

The bill becomes law if Governor John Rankin approves it. And Godwin is asking him to reject it.

“It sends a message that you not only believe in equality of all people but that you disagree with the stripping of rights,” Godwin said, adding that it would be a “monumental symbol” if Rankin rejected the bill.

Rankin is not an elected official. Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory (BOT), one of fourteen former colonies all over the world that were never granted independence from the British Empire but are also not considered part of the United Kingdom. Some are self-governing, and the UK retains responsibility for defense and foreign relations.

This means that Queen Elizabeth II is the official head of state of Bermuda, and the governor is her appointed representative.

The governor’s job is more about diplomacy than governing, though, and Rankin is himself a career diplomat. While he officially has to give Royal Assent to Bermuda’s laws on behalf of the queen, that part of his job is largely ceremonial – he does it every time.

American LGBT organization HRC also issued a statement asking Rankin to reject the bill, calling it “unconscionable.”

“With international business and tourism as its major industries, Bermuda’s people, international reputation and economy would all be harmed by this legislation,” HRC’s Ty Cobb said. “It is crucial that Governor Rankin reject this assault on equality.”

But rejection of a law that passed with large majorities in both houses of Bermuda’s legislature could hurt public perception of both the UK and the LGBTQ people in Bermuda.

Queen Elizabeth II herself has given Royal Assent to homophobic laws in the past, including the UK’s Section 28, a 1988 law that banned local authorities from “promoting homosexuality.”

“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,” a UK Foreign Office spokesperson said.

Godwin said he knows rejection will be difficult for Rankin. “In such a position we should always do what is right, not necessarily what’s easy.”

Rankin’s office would not comment on the matter, only saying, “The Governor will continue to act in accordance with his responsibilities under the Constitution.”

Since marriage equality was legalized in May, there have been seven marriages between people of the same sex in Bermuda, with an eighth already planned. The island has a population of 64,000, comparable to the population of Janesville, Wisconsin.

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