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Date set for final ruling on same-sex marriage

The Privy Council of the United Kingdom (File photograph)

The final appeal over same-sex marriage got a day in court for December at the Privy Council in London.The December 7 and 8 hearings, revealed yesterday, will settle the issue after years of dispute in Bermuda’s courts and Parliament.The ruling by Britain’s highest court will also set a precedent for same-sex marriage across the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, and a host of former territories.The court date was announced by the gay rights charity OutBermuda, a plaintiff in the latest round of legal action over same-sex marriage. The group said the top court’s decision would likely be made public in the first quarter of 2021.Adrian Hartnett-Beasley, a director of OutBermuda, said the group had “long known that our pursuit of marriage equality would be a marathon, not a sprint”.He said the Privy Council hearing marked the group’s “final push to preserve our equal rights under the law for all Bermudians and all families”.Mr Hartnett-Beasley added: “We deserve no less.”Zakiya Lord, another director of the group, said: “Since our first court victory and despite every obstacle put in our path, Bermuda’s loving, same-sex couples have celebrated their vows under Bermuda law.”Ms Lord said it was “time for all of us to have certainty, protection and equal dignity that marriage rights will ensure”.Roderick Ferguson, another plaintiff, said the litigants “always knew” the case could head to the Privy Council.He said LGBTQ Bermudians and their supporters had shown strength and numbers “like never before” over the past three years. Mr Ferguson added: “The popular support for marriage equality and for the LGBTQ community is stronger than ever and growing among Commonwealth nations.“With three judicial victories behind us, we could not have more faith in the fairness of the courts and our ultimate victory.”OutBermuda was a main sponsor of the island’s first gay pride parade in August 2019, widely seen as a sign of the island’s changing stance.The show of support brought more than 5,000 people onto the streets of Hamilton. But the dispute’s origins go back to the Stubbs Bill of May 1994 that legalised sex between men.The next milestone was June 2013, when the Government approved amendments to the Human Rights Act to prevent discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. MPs in the House of Assembly then approved amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman, but it was rejected by the Senate on July 2016.Same-sex marriages have been legal since May 2017, when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Bermudian Winston Godwin and his Canadian fiancé, Greg DeRoche.The two argued their rights were breached by the Registrar’s refusal to post their marriage banns. The court’s decision paved the way for others to wed.In response, the Government passed the Domestic Partnership Act that December, upholding existing same-sex marriages, but prohibiting any further by substituting them with domestic partnerships.Mr Ferguson contested the civil unions as unconstitutional, and was joined by Maryellen Jackson and OutBermuda.Other respondents were listed as Gordon Campbell and Sylvia Hayward, pastor of the Vision Church of Bermuda, which opened in 2009 as a gay-friendly church.Then Chief Justice, Ian Kawaley, ruled in their favour in May 2018, and the Bermuda Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by the Attorney-General.Because the ruling was based on a constitutional issue, the Government got an automatic right of appeal in the Privy Council.