In an unusual move, Bermuda has abolished same-sex marriage less than a year after it was legalized, replacing same-sex unions with domestic partnerships.
Bermuda Governor 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 said the Domestic Partnership Act 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 couldn’t rightfully intervene, and critics called it a dark day for civil rights.
‘‘This is not equality,’’ Joe Gibbons, a gay Bermudian who is married to his partner, 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. But, the spokesman said, the bill ‘‘has been democratically passed by the Parliament of Bermuda, and our relationship with the overseas territories is based on partnership and respect for their right to democratic self-government.’’
Rankin was appointed by the United Kingdom.
The Supreme Court of Bermuda ruled in May 2017 that same-sex couples could legally marry. Since that time, a handful of couples have done so, according to the Guardian. Despite the new law, marriages of those couples will still be recognized.
Same-sex marriage has been a sensitive issue in Bermuda. Voters previously opposed it in a referendum, and in December, Bermuda’s Senate and House of Assembly approved the Domestic Partnership Act.
The government said this week that the 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.’’