The decision by Governor John Rankin in the wealthy Atlantic island of 60,000 people represents the first reversal of a trend among Western countries of legalising same-sex marriage.
Under the Domestic Partnership Act 2017, already passed by Bermuda’s House of Assembly and Senate, any Bermudian will be allowed to form domestic partnerships which the government says will offer equal rights. It follows a referendum in which a majority of voters opposed same-sex marriage.
Same-sex couples who wed in recent months will not have their marital status annulled.
The new act has been criticised by international human rights groups who have lobbied Rankin and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to deviate from standard practice in self-governing UK territories and withhold assent.
They say the new legislation contradicts Bermuda’s constitution, which guarantees freedom from discrimination.
The Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality in May 2017 was celebrated by the small gay community, but it also outraged many on the socially conservative island, including church leaders, and thousands protested outside parliament.
In a debate in the UK’s House of Commons last month, openly gay Labour MP Chris Bryant called the bill a “deeply unpleasant and very cynical piece of legislation.”
“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.’”
Prominent LGBTQ rights activists, including GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis and screenwriter Peter Paige, are encouraging people to boycott the island using the hashtag #BoycottBermuda.
Ty Cobb, director of Human Rights Campaign Global, said in a statement that 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,” he said.
The governor declined to comment beyond a brief statement that said: “After careful consideration in line with my responsibilities under the Constitution, I have today given assent to the Domestic Partnership Act 2017.”
Walton Brown, Bermuda’s Minister of Home Affairs, whose ruling PLP party proposed the act, said on Wednesday he was pleased with the decision.
“The British government recognises that this is a local government decision,” Brown said, adding that the act struck a compromise 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.”
However, Foreign Office minister Harriet Baldwin said the British government was “obviously disappointed by the removal of same-sex marriage in Bermuda”.
She told MPs the Foreign Secretary had decided it would “not be appropriate” for the UK to overrule the decision.
Same-sex marriage was first legalized in Bermuda in May 2017 after the nation’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of a gay couple who sued for equal marriage rights. Winston Godwin, a Bermudian, and Greg DeRoche, a Canadian, filed the lawsuit after their marriage application was declined by Bermuda’s Registrar-General, Bernews said.
After the ruling was handed down, conservative leaders argued that it did not reflect the majority interests of the people in Bermuda, The New York Times reported.