How controversial issue unfolded in court
The controversial issue of same-sex marriage finally came under the legal spotlight in the island’s Supreme Court at the beginning of this year.
Over three days of judicial review proceedings, lawyers representing Winston Godwin and his Canadian fiancé Greg DeRoche and the Bermuda Government clashed over the statutory interpretation of legislation governing marriage.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission and Preserve Marriage were also given the chance to voice their opinions in court on the hotly debated topic.
Mark Pettingill, acting for the couple, urged the court to write the final chapter in the protection of gay rights in Bermuda.
He said the couple’s case encapsulates “the right to happiness, the right of all people to seek love and happiness”. Mr Pettingill added: “The applicants say that religious arguments bear no relevance on civil contractual marriage. This is a matter of statutory interpretation.
“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.”
But the Government’s lawyer, Deputy Solicitor-General Shakira Dill-Francois, told the court that the Registrar-General could not post marriage banns for gay couples because such unions are null and void under Bermuda’s existing laws.
She said that under section 33 of the Marriage Act 1944, it was an offence for the Registrar to authorise a marriage, knowing it was void.
She added the Matrimonial Causes Act 1974, in section 15, clearly sets out the grounds on which a marriage was void, including if “the parties are not respectively male and female”.
Adding that the two pieces of legislation had to be read and understood together, Ms Dill-Francois asked: “Why would the Registrar proceed to register a marriage that is, in fact, void?”
Preserve Marriage, which has campaigned to maintain marriage as between a man and a woman, and the Human Rights Commission were allowed to join the proceedings as “interveners”.
Preserve Marriage was represented by lawyer Delroy Duncan, who argued that changing the law on same-sex marriage could open the door for “multiple-partner marriages” on the island.
“We have to ask ourselves whether this legislation is permissive of such marriages or whether or not what you are being asked to do could open the door to multiple-partner marriages,” he said.
Mr Duncan maintained that Parliament must decide on the issue of same-sex marriage “through the ballot box”.
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