Gay couple fight to marry
A young Bermudian told yesterday how he and his fiancé wanted to help “make a difference” by becoming the first gay couple to argue in court for the right to marry here.
Winston Godwin, 26, who grew up in Sandys and now lives in Toronto, told The Royal Gazette: “This is something that can impact and affect so many people in a positive way.
“I would love to be able to come back to Bermuda and work and contribute to a place that has given me so much.
“Unfortunately, as it stands, it's one of those things that's just not possible at the moment. I would just like to have our marriage recognised as just as equal as anybody else's.”
Mr Godwin got engaged last month after his boyfriend, Greg DeRoche, 29, proposed to him on a visit to the island. The couple, who have been together for a year and a half, were enjoying a romantic walk along the beach at Cooper's Island, skipping rocks across the waves, when Mr DeRoche popped the question.
“We had talked about it a little beforehand and joked about it. I said, ‘Are you being serious? If you are being serious, then, yes, absolutely!' I couldn't imagine spending my life with anyone else.”
Soon after their engagement, Mr Godwin saw an appeal on social media from campaigner Tony Brannon for a gay couple to come forward to test the law of the land in relation to same-sex marriage. Mr Godwin said: “We had never really considered Bermuda because of it not being legally recognised but we said, ‘Why not? It would be kind of cool to do'. It's something that's bigger than both of us. We could easily have gotten married in Canada, no problem, no questions asked, but we figured if there was something we could help to do to make a difference, why not try to fight for that?”
Lawyer and former Attorney-General Mark Pettingill is now representing the couple, pro bono, and he filed notice of their intended marriage with the Registrar-General last week.
The application was rejected and Mr Pettingill has since filed a writ with the Supreme Court seeking a declaratory judgment on whether the Registrar's refusal to provide the couple with the service of marriage on the basis of their sexual orientation breached the Human Rights Act.
Mr Godwin said he and Mr DeRoche were preparing affidavits to support their case and were willing to come to the island to testify in court if necessary.
In the meantime, he had a message for those who say they “don't believe” in same-sex marriage.
“It's not something for you to believe in. I'm not Santa Claus or the Easter bunny. This is me. I'm a real person, a human being, expressing human feelings. “I'm a person, just like you and how can you tell me I'm less than you because of who I love?
“I don't say ‘who I choose to love' because it's not a choice. My being gay: I have as much choice in that as I do being black. It's like being left-handed or right-handed; being a woman versus a man.”
Mr Godwin, an aquarist who works at Ripley's Aquarium of Canada and the recipient of several local scholarships and awards, said he was an example of a young Bermudian who was part of the “brain drain” from the island, pursuing a career elsewhere after having “so much invested into them” here.
“Bermuda still feels like home,” said the former Saltus Grammar School student. “I would eventually love to come back and give back to an island that has given me so many opportunities.
“I'm never ever ruling Bermuda out of the question. But, as it stands right now, I can't do that and be happy.”
He compared life in Toronto, where he and Mr DeRoche can walk unnoticed hand-in-hand down the street, with being in Bermuda and “not being able to be completely ... yourself because society tells you that you are less than them”.
Mr Godwin went to boarding school and university in Canada and said it was always possible for him to “escape” from the island.
But he added: “A lot of Bermudians that might be in a similar position, struggling to come to grips with themselves, they don't really have that escape.
“It's tough living in that sort of climate 24/7.”
That knowledge, he said, spurred him and his fiance on to get involved with Mr Pettingill's legal challenge.
Describing his involvement in what could be an historic case, he admitted: “It's nerve-racking, for sure. It's something that ruffles a lot of feather.
“It's something that people aren't used to.
“It's something that's out of the norm. It shouldn't be, because it's just an equal rights thing.”