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Gay couple’s marriage application rejected

An application by a gay couple to get married in Bermuda has been rejected by the Government.

Bermudian Winston Godwin, 26, and his fiance Greg DeRoche, 29, who live in Toronto, filed notice of their intended marriage with Registrar-General Aubrey Pennyman on Monday.

The application was accompanied by a letter from the couple's lawyer Mark Pettingill, which asked Mr Pennyman to make clear his “intentions” within two days as to whether he would post notice of their marriage. The Royal Gazette understands that Mr Pennyman has written back to Mr Pettingill, telling him he is not prepared to post the marriage banns, in accordance with the Marriage Act. The Registrar's letter is believed to cite the Matrimonial Causes Act, section 15 of which says a marriage is void if the parties are not male and female.

The matter is now likely to go before the Supreme Court, with Mr Pettingill expected to seek a declaratory judgment to determine exactly what the position is in law. He will also probably apply for a court order which, if issued, would require Mr Pennyman to perform his statutory duties and allow the men to marry.

Government backbencher Mr Pettingill, a former Attorney-General, has previously said that since the Human Rights Act bans discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and has primacy over all other laws, gay couples cannot be denied the service of marriage. Mr Pennyman's letter, it is understood, made no reference to the Human Rights Act.

Last month, a referendum was held on same-sex relationships with a voter turnout of 46.89 per cent. Of those who voted, 69 per cent were against same-sex marriage and 63 per cent were against same-sex civil unions.

Michael Dunkley, the Premier, said the day before the ballot: “Any outcome is the will of the people and will guide their elected officials accordingly. As we have said in the town hall meeting[s], if there is a ‘no' vote it will potentially open up challenges in the courts and the courts will ultimately decide.”

Human Rights Commission representatives are due to meet with Mr Dunkley early next week to discuss how Bermuda will recognise same-sex relationships. Chairwoman Tawana Tannock told this newspaper the meeting would focus on “next steps”, adding: “Legislation is one of the things that we will be discussing.”

“We have some suggestions,” she said. “Right now, we are trying to ascertain what the Government's timeline is for ensuring that same-sex couples have legal recognition.”

She said the HRC had, before and after the referendum, carried out its mandate to educate and raise awareness about equality issues.

“Regardless of the referendum, we always have a mandate to ensure that rights are protected,” she said.

“Our main goal always remains advancement for all rights issues. The result doesn't change government's legal obligation. Something needs to be implemented to reflect government's legal obligation.”

It wasn't possible to reach Mr Pennyman, Mr Pettingill or the couple for comment before going to press last night.

Lawyer Mark Pettingill

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Published July 08, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated July 08, 2016 at 2:32 am)

Gay couple’s marriage application rejected

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