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Referendum - June 23rd 2016

**Please note this page is not actively updated and remains for information purposes only.

OUTBermuda is Bermuda’s only charity devoted to raising awareness of issues affecting LGBTQ people in Bermuda.   Although OUTBermuda doesn’t support the use of referendums on issues affecting the rights and freedoms of individuals, we recognize the upcoming vote presents a unique opportunity to engage publicly on issues affecting LGBTQ people and families of LGBTQ people. 

After a series of public forums, the Government called a referendum in March of 2016 and subsequently chose to hold the referendum on the 23rd of June 2016. Our position is that the Bermuda Government is legally obliged to give formal recognition to stable and enduring same sex relationships.  This has been made clear by the Supreme Court, and has also been recognized by the Government itself, which prepared draft legislation to introduce Civil Unions.

Despite this, OUTBermuda recognizes that the referendum presents a unique opportunity to promote public engagement on issues affecting LGBTQ people and families of LGBT people.  More than 80% of voting age Bermudians will publicly admit to knowing a lesbian or gay person or to having a family member who is lesbian or gay.  Close to 75% of Bermudians believe LGBTQ people deserve human rights protection, which demonstrates a marked change in public sentiment over the last 10 years.  With that in mind, we believe now is as good a time as any to engage with the public (with those who agree and those who don’t) on Civil Unions and Same-Sex Marriage.

We support voting ‘Yes/Yes’ on June 23rd.  Here are some answers to commonly asked questions we’ve heard to explain why we believe you should also.

Why do groups like OUTBermuda support voting ‘Yes/Yes’?

Civil Unions are a compromise solution that provides legal protection for Lesbian and Gay people, and families of Lesbian and Gay people, while recognizing that sensitivities exist about use of the word “marriage”. Voting ‘Yes’ for Same-Sex Marriage recognizes that full marriage equality will not be detrimental to Bermuda just like it hasn’t been detrimental to any country that has recognized it – we haven’t stopped traveling to the United States, England or Canada, and we haven’t stopped sending our children to study there either. In short, we believe it is possible to support a compromise solution while at the same time acknowledging that full equality would be positive for Bermuda also.

Can you vote ‘Yes’ for one option, and ‘No’ for another?

Yes, you can.  There may be some people who for religious reasons can support Civil Unions but not marriage.  They can vote ‘Yes’ for Civil Unions and ‘No’ for Same-Sex Marriage.  OUTBermuda’s position is that we support a compromise while also recognizing that full equality is also positive outcome, and therefore we support ‘Yes/Yes’.

What has the European Court of Human Rights said about Marriage Equality?

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgement in the case of Oliari v Italy is being used locally to say that Governments will not be compelled to provide same sex marriage. However, in  Oliari v Italy the ECHR said that Lesbian and Gay people possessed the Right to Family Life (just like heterosexual people).  That right requires governments to provide some form of legal framework to committed Lesbian and Gay couples.  The Court’s analysis has been further developed in the more recent decision in Pajić v Croatia, where it held that governments must not discriminate in matters of immigration on the basis of a couple’s sexual orientation.   While the European Court has not forced any jurisdiction to adopt marriage equality, where marriage is not available to Lesbian and Gay couples governments are required to take steps to give effect to the Right to Family Life for Lesbian and Gay people.  Voting ‘No’ won’t end the national dialogue about the necessary steps that ought to be taken. 

Will Civil Unions or Same-Sex Marriage re-order society?

There are Lesbian and Gay couples living and working in Bermuda.  Some of those couples also have children.  A change in the law will simply extend legal protections to these families, which already form part of the community.  For example, it will extend automatic hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights and pension rights. OUTBermuda supports ending systemic discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and more broadly on the basis of race, gender, age, religious affiliation, ability and class. If ending systemic discrimination means society is being re-ordered, then ‘bring it on’.

What about my religious views on marriage?

Your religious views on marriage will remain unchanged, unless of course you choose to change them.  A ‘Yes’ vote will not result in any church having to alter its doctrine to embrace Lesbian and Gay couples.  If you do not support Civil Unions or Marriage Equality before the referendum a ‘Yes’ vote will not mean that you will be forced to do so afterwards. You will not be forced to attend a ceremony celebrating a Civil Union or Marriage either – and chances are you won’t be invited anyway. Your religious views are a matter of choice for you, and those views ought to be respected.

How do Civil Unions or Same-Sex Marriages benefit society?

Families, including Lesbian and Gay families, are important to society.  They provide structure and support for their respective family members, and also serve as a source financial and emotional security.  Legal recognition of Lesbian and Gay relationships provides legal support for a broader number of families by providing equal access to the bundle of rights enjoyed by opposite-sex married couples.  These rights are particularly important during periods of family hardship, like when someone is sick, or upon death.  At present same-sex couples have no legal right to visit each other in hospital, or to direct a partner’s health care or end of life care.  Financial planning is also problematic without legal recognition.  Civil Unions and Marriage Equality promote stability and permanency for Lesbian and Gay couples.

Are two men or two women suited to raising children?

Yes, they are.  Children of same-sex couples do just as well as children of mixed-sex couples.  In April of this year the most comprehensive comparative analysis of children of mixed-sex and same-sex parents was published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, and found the children of both groups fare just as well. Preserve Marriage relies on a study by Mark Regenerus to support its claim that Lesbian and Gay parents aren’t ideal for children.  However, Mark’s study has been discredited.  It did not look at same-sex parents in stable and committed relationships. Civil Unions and Same-Sex Marriage are about ensuring there is a legal framework in place to help promote permanency and stability for Lesbian and Gay families.

Can religious leaders refuse to carry out Civil Unions and Same-Sex weddings?

Yes, they can refuse to do so.  The framework of the Civil Union Bill, which the Government prepared for discussion purposes, requires anyone who wants to be a Civil Union celebrant to apply for designation as such.  No one who refuses to register as a celebrant can be forced to carry out a Civil Union.  The same would extend to Same-Sex Marriages.  Also, there is no precedent for forcing churches to carry out marriages in circumstances where to do so is contrary to church doctrine.  For example, divorced people can’t get married in a Catholic Church, and there has never been an example of a judge or court in Bermuda mandating that the Catholic Church do so.

How will Civil Unions and Same-Sex Marriage affect the birth-rate Bermuda?

Some people believe being Lesbian or Gay is a choice, and that increasing social acceptance of Lesbian and Gay people (including acceptance of Civil Unions and Same-Sex Marriage) will result in more people choosing to be Lesbian or Gay.  That’s not so.  A person’s sexuality is innate and won’t change as a result of the referendum.  People (Lesbian and Gay people included) will continue to have children if there is a ‘Yes’ vote on any question.  Fluctuations in birthrate reflect macro-economic factors (such as cost of living and raising a family in Bermuda), not the existence of Lesbian and Gay people in our community. 

If I vote ‘Yes’ for either Civil Unions or Same-Sex Marriage does that mean I condone homosexuality?

No. Voting ‘Yes’ only means that you recognize there are diverse types of families in Bermuda. You don’t have to agree with the various family structures that exist to recognize there are tremendous legal benefits associated with broadening the types of family arrangements that enjoy legal recognition and protection.  Not too long ago children born to unwed parents were socially and legally labelled “illegitimate” and denied a host of legal rights.  You can possess a religious belief that children should only be born into a marriage while also recognizing that children born into different family arrangements should not face social and legal discrimination.   

Does OUTBermuda support traditional marriage?

Yes.  Traditional marriage has a host of social and legal benefits.  We believe those benefits should be extended to Lesbian and Gay couples who want them.  For example, elder Bermudians are likely to be cared for by their family, which includes their same-sex partners and opposite sex spouses.  Yet, those elders in same-sex relationships lack access to pension rights and inheritance rights that opposite-sex spouses have, regardless of the length of commitment to their partner.  We believe all families play an important role in our society, which justifies extending legal protections more broadly.

Isn’t this all part of the Gay Agenda?

There is no such thing as the Gay Agenda.  That is a phrase created to reduce the diverse humanity of LGBTQ people into a single stereotype.  The LGBTQ community is comprised of people of differing races, ages, religious affiliations, sexes, genders and so on.  The priorities and concerns of LGBTQ people are as a result diverse.  There is no one script that LGBTQ people speak from.  Some of us are trade unionists; others white-collar professionals; some serve in the hospitality and retail sectors; still others are retired from the workforce.  As with any group, while there are issues on which there is broad agreement – like the need to extend legal protections to LGBTQ families – there are other issues on which opinions diverge.

Aren’t Civil Unions a slippery slope to gay marriage?

Preserve Marriage says that voters should oppose Civil Unions because in other countries they have been a precursor to full marriage equality.  What Preserve Marriage doesn’t say is that those countries have moved towards marriage equality because that was the will of the majority of the people.  A good example is the United Kingdom, where a Conservative government (which was historically hostile to LGBTQ people) introduced marriage equality as a way to improve its appeal among an electorate that supported full equality.  It is inconsistent for Preserve Marriage to support an expensive referendum – like the one we’re having – as a medium to gauge public sentiment on the one hand, and then criticize foreign governments that adopted full marital equality in response to public support for doing so. 

Will a ‘Yes’ vote mean that I have to rent to gay people?

The outcome of the referendum will not affect your obligations as a landlord, and whether you are required to rent to a Lesbian or Gay person, or couple, or family.  The position governed is by the Human Rights Act 1981, and it will not change regardless of the referendum’s outcome. 

Will a ‘Yes’ vote mean that companies will be forced to provide services to Lesbian and Gay couples?

The position here is also already governed by the Human Rights Act 1981, and will not change regardless of the outcome of the referendum.  Companies or organizations that provide services to the public must not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.  No company or organization is above the law, and it is a fundamental principal of our democracy that the laws of Bermuda apply to businesses equally.  For example, companies and organizations must abide by the same health and safety laws, employment laws and anti-discrimination laws.  The outcome of the referendum will not change this.

Has OUTBermuda taken the views of religious people into account in formulating its support for a ‘Yes/Yes’ vote?

Yes, we have.  OUTBermuda recognizes that Bermuda’s faith communities are diverse.  While we accept that there are a number of people who identify as religious and who oppose Civil Unions and Marriage Equality, there exist a number of people of faith who embrace LGBTQ people and respect the right of Lesbian and Gay people to form lasting and meaningful relationships.  This is the reason we support Civil Unions as a compromise.  Importantly though, in supporting ‘Yes/Yes’ OUTBermuda recognizes such an outcome will only directly affect Lesbian and Gay people and their families, even though it engages an issue many religious people are passionate about.

What if someone believes Civil Unions and Same-Sex Marriage are a threat to their marriage?

If a couple is threatened by someone else’s relationship, union or marriage, that problem lies squarely with the couple.  They cannot blame anyone else for the breakdown of their relationship. 

Aren’t the economy and unemployment more pressing issues than Civil Unions or Same-Sex Marriage?

OUTBermuda acknowledges that the economy and unemployment are issues of grave concern to the majority of Bermudians – including LGBTQ Bermudians; and we support the use of public resources to address both issues.  OUTBermuda did not lobby the Government to hold the referendum, and believes the money allocated for this purpose could have been better spent elsewhere, like on subsidizing student employment over the summer months and on university scholarships.  However, the reality is that we are having a referendum on June 23rd, and given our broad mandate to raise awareness of LGBTQ issues we would be remiss if we didn’t make an effort to explain how a Yes/Yes vote benefits not only LGBTQ people but also the island as a whole.

What are the financial benefits of Civil Unions or Same-Sex Marriage?

Lesbian and Gay couples will have greater financial security from legal recognition of their relationship.  For example, there will be automatic access to pension and inheritance rights, including the right to claim an equivalent of a bequest exemption upon a partner’s death.  Legal recognition also provides financial security for children of same-sex couples, particularly non-biological children of such couples.  Legal recognition of same-sex relationships will give Lesbian and Gay couples the equal ability to take family leave from work to care for a sick partner or child (again in particular a non-biological child) and to access associated workplace benefits. 

What are the health benefits of Civil Unions or Same-Sex Marriage?

Married people (regardless of whether there are Lesbian, Gay or Heterosexual) are generally happier and live longer. 

What if I oppose children having to learn about LGBTQ people at school?

The school curriculum is devised by experts, and the material covered is designed by them to be age appropriate.  There are people who believe that teaching students about Lesbian and Gay families will result in young people choosing to become Lesbian or Gay.  That isn’t so.  It’s like saying that just because math is taught at school everyone will become a mathematician. Sexuality is not a choice, and as a result that fear is unfounded. OUTBermuda believes that young people are best served by our education system when they are introduced to the diversity of the community they are part of.  This means learning that there are people of differing faiths (and no faith), abilities, genders, and so on. OUTBermuda does not support an education system that teaches young people that LGBTQ people cannot make positive contributions towards the community.  If parents wish to instill a particular world view in their children they have every right to do so, and will no doubt do so regardless of what their children learn through formal education, social media, religious education or from their peers.

What happens if there is a ‘No’ vote on both questions?

A ‘No’ vote will not alter the Bermuda Government’s responsibilities and obligations towards the island’s LGBTQ people.  Importantly, the Government will still have responsibility for providing a legal framework for recognizing Lesbian and Gay families.

Will OUTBermuda disband if there is a ‘Yes’ vote?

OUTBermuda was not created in response to the referendum and its mandate is broader than advocating for a ‘Yes’ vote on the two questions posed.  OUTBermuda plans to be around long after June 23rd, regardless of what happens on the day.

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