Premier Michael Dunkley’s decision to abstain from voting on the Same-Sex Marriage Bill is under criticism today with accusations of weak leadership from the Progressive Labour Party (PLP).

Acting Opposition Leader, David Burt, said it was “reprehensible” for the country’s leader “to abstain from voting on such an “emotive issue”. This after 20 MPs voted in favour of the amended bill.

After nearly two hours of debate – ten MPs voted against it – the Premier abstained. He asked that the bill be set back for a week to allow him time to discuss it with the Human Rights Commission. But that would not be the case.

Deputy Speaker Suzann Roberts Holshouser, who was serving as Speaker was unable to vote. Opposition Leader Marc Bean and Zane DeSilva were absent.

In a statement released on Sunday night, Mr Burt said there’s “bound to be differences of opinion” on such an emotive issue like same-sex marriage. “Hence the reason to have a conscience vote in the House of Assembly,” he said.

“It is, however, reprehensible that the Premier of the country would abstain from voting on this amendment,” said Mr Burt. “For what legitimate reason would Premier Dunkley abstain?

“The job of a leader is to lead from the front. For the Leader of the country to abstain on an issue such as this shows weak leadership.

“Premier Dunkley has continued to show himself to be a weak and ineffective leader. Instead of stepping up to the plate when a leader should, he has cowered in the shadows afraid of making a tough decision, while hiding behind poor excuses.

“While the public may take issue with the stances taken by some MPs, the real dereliction of duty has come from the Premier,” he said.

“Leadership is about courage. The people need leaders who have the courage to stand by their convictions. A failure to vote on such an amendment violates the trust between the electorate and the Member of Parliament and shows no courage whatsoever.”

The final vote sparked heated debates on the local social media circuit this weekend on the human rights factor. Some argued that solidifying marriage as between a man and a woman also raises the discrimination factor.

The amendments tabled by Opposition MP Wayne Furbert, and amended by Attorney General Trevor Moniz, ultimately states that marriages in Bermuda are void unless they are between a man and a woman. And nothing in the Human Rights Act would override that provision destined to be signed into law.

By the end of the debate strong views were expressed both for and against same sex marriage. Objectors included PLPs Walton Brown, OBA MP Mark Pettingill, and Independent MP Shawn Crockwell. All three argued the amendments were discriminatory, and in breach of basic human rights.

Mr Crockwell warned Bermuda will look “regressive, unfriendly, and intolerant” if passed. And Mr Pettingill argued that every human is entitled to the same human rights despite their sexual orientation.

Mr Brown asked fellow MPs how embarrassing it would be for the new amendments to be overturned by Bermuda’s courts? “Our responsibility is to lead. We cannot allow the courts to do it because we don’t have the conviction,” he said.

Other objectors included the OBAs Patricia Gordon Pamplin, Glenn Smith and Dr Grant Gibbons. Siding with Mr Furbert in favour of the new Bill were OBA MPs Sylvan Richards, Wayne Scott, and Craig Cannonier.

Despite the invalid referendum result, Mr Furbert said the people of Bermuda who voted were clearly opposed to same-sex marriage.

“I heard the people say loud and clear where they want to stand. I’m not listening to three people when ten thousand people already said no,” said Mr Furbert. He, like others, who voted in favour of the Bill, maintained that same-sex marriage is not a human rights issue.

His comments were echoed by Mr Cannonier who also referred to the the recent referendum results. He concluded that the bottom line for him, based on the final count was: “When the people speak we must listen to bring good legislation to the table.”

By Ceola Wilson