Same-sex case: All have the right to seek love’
The lawyer for a gay couple fighting for the right to marry in Bermuda has urged the court to write the final chapter in the protection of gay rights.
Mark Pettingill, acting on behalf of Bermudian Winston Godwin and his Canadian fiancé, Greg DeRoche, told the Supreme Court that the Human Rights Act took primacy in Bermuda and protected his clients’ rights to marry.
Mr Godwin and Mr DeRoche have brought a civil case against the Registrar-General for rejecting their application to marry.
They are seeking an order from the Supreme Court to compel the Registrar to post their marriage bans, in accordance with the Marriage Act. They also want a declaration that same-sex couples are entitled to be married under that law.
This morning, Mr Pettingill addressed Judge Charles-Etta Simmons before a packed courtroom of more than 60 people at the beginning of the case.
He said the case encapsulates “the right to happiness, the right of all people to seek love and happiness”, adding: “The applicants say that religious arguments bear no relevance on civil contractual marriage. This is a matter of statutory interpretation.”
In his opening address, Mr Pettingill also questioned why the Attorney-General and the Minister of Home Affairs were named as respondents in the case.
“I don’t understand how the respondents are even here,” he said. “There are three respondents listed: one [the Registrar-General] has withdrawn his position, and the other two have supported the applicant’s position.
“I understand it’s politics and a lot of heads can get stuck in the sand but this is a court of law.
“These two respondents [the Attorney-General and Minister of Home Affairs] objected and voted against provisions that would override the primacy of the Human Rights Act. Why are we here?”
Describing the referendum on same-sex marriage and civil unions as “folly” Mr Pettingill added: “It’s a minority rights issue. It is time for the courts fully armed with the legal protection of the Human Rights Act to write the final chapter in the protection of the rights of gay people of secular orientation and all the rights that everyone enjoys to be the same.”
Mr Godwin, who was in court for today’s proceedings, wore a T-shirt saying “Some dudes marry dudes. Get over it.”
Mr Pettingill insisted that the primacy of the Human Rights Act protected his clients’ right not to be discriminated against on the basis of their sex or sexual orientation.
He said: “It is not just about Bermuda, it is about right thinking countries and people now at least embracing this concept, and in embracing this concept we cannot in Bermuda operate in a vacuum or create artificial arguments to obviate the position in human rights. The law is clear.”
Preserve Marriage, which has campaigned to maintain marriage as between a man and a woman, has been allowed to join the case as an “intervener” in the proceedings. The group is represented by Delroy Duncan, and the defendant by the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
The case, which is expected to last several days, is taking place in Court Four of the Dame Lois Browne-Evans building before Judge Charles-Etta Simmons.
Those in attendance include the Progressive Labour Party MP Wayne Furbert, an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage, and Tony Brannon, who has been at the forefront of the campaign in favour.
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