U.K. disappointed after Bermuda abolishes same-sex marriage

​The U.K. government expressed disappointment Thursday that Bermuda has abolished same-sex marriage.

New law reverses 2017 court ruling that legalized gay marriage in Atlantic island territory

A view of Hamilton Harbour in Bermuda at dusk in November. The island's governor on Wednesday approved a bill reversing the right of gay couples to marry in the British overseas territory. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

​The U.K. government expressed disappointment Thursday that Bermuda, a British overseas territory, has abolished same-sex marriage, but said it would have been wrong to overturn the decision.

Bermuda's Senate and House of Assembly passed legislation replacing same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships in December, and the island's U.K.-appointed governor, John Rankin, signed it into law Wednesday.

That move by the wealthy Atlantic island of 60,000 people represents a rare reversal of a trend among Western countries of legalizing same-sex marriage.

British Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman, James Slack, said Britain was "seriously disappointed" by the decision, which reverses a 2017 court ruling legalizing gay marriage.

But he said it would not have been right for Britain to block the move.

He 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." 

Some opposition politicians criticized the government, saying Britain should have intervened to prevent the change, which they called discriminatory. Labour Party foreign affairs spokesperson Helen Goodman said the legislation was "shameful" and "turns same-sex couples into second-class citizens."

Foreign Office Minister Harriett Baldwin said "after full and careful consideration" the government had decided not to block the legislation.

U.K. Foreign Office Minister Harriett Baldwin said 'after full and careful consideration' the U.K. government had decided not to block Bermuda's ban on same-sex marriage. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

She said Britain's powers to intervene with laws in its overseas territories "can only can be used where there is a legal or constitutional basis for doing so, and even then only in exceptional circumstances."

Same-sex couples who wed in recent months will not have their marital status annulled.

"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.'"

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. 

Same-sex marriage is legal in 26 nations: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Uruguay, United States.

It is also set to become legal in Austria and Taiwan, following court rulings on the matter in 2017.

With files from Reuters