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Landmark same-sex ruling

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Celebrating victory: Winston Godwin, centre, outside court with his legal team of Grant Spurling, left, and Mark Pettingill, and campaigner Tony Brannon (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A gay couple have won a landmark legal ruling that paves the way for same-sex marriage in Bermuda.

Bermudian Winston Godwin and his Canadian fiancé, Greg DeRoche, embarked on their fight for equal rights after the Registrar-General rejected their application to marry on the island.

They took their case to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Human Rights Act took primacy in Bermuda and protected their right to marry.

Yesterday a packed courtroom in the Dame Lois Browne-Evans Building erupted into spontaneous applause after Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons ruled in the couple’s favour.

“The common law definition of marriage, that marriage is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, and its reflection in the Marriage Act section 24 and the Matrimonial Clauses Act section 15 (c) are inconsistent with the provisions of the Human Rights Act as they constitute deliberate different treatment on the basis of sexual orientation,” Mrs Justice Simmons said.

“In so doing the common law discriminates against same-sex couples by excluding them from marriage and more broadly speaking the institution of marriage.

“On the facts of this case the applicants were discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation when the Registrar refused to process their notice of intended marriage.

“Same-sex couples denied access to marriage laws and entry into the institution of marriage have been denied what the Human Rights Commission terms a “basket of goods”, that is rights of a spouse contained in numerous enactments of Parliament.”

She added: “The applicants are entitled to an Order of Mandamus compelling the Registrar to act in accordance with the requirements of the Marriage Act and a Declaration that same-sex couples are entitled to be married under the Marriage Act 1944.”

Mr Godwin described the ruling as a big step in the right direction and told The Royal Gazette that he and Mr DeRoche would be resubmitting their application to marry to the Registrar-General “within days”.

“It has been a long time coming,” he said. “This ruling, although it was in our favour ... there is still so much more to do in Bermuda.

“The ruling today is more than me and pieces of paper; it’s more than any of that, it is what it means for Bermuda moving forward.

“Now we can begin to fix some of these issues. People are going to have their opinions about this and that is OK. I am not here to change people’s opinions or how they think.

“I just want them to respect me and my relationship and my marriage that will happen here. This is a big step in the right direction and I cannot thank my legal team and my supporters enough.

“Hopefully, this brings forward hope and courage for those who were or are afraid to speak up or come out. This is a moment we are proud of and will never forget.”

Meanwhile, yesterday’s 48-page judgment was welcomed by the Rainbow Alliance who declared the ruling as victory for all same-gender loving people in Bermuda. The group said “history has been made and love has won”.

Senator Jeff Baron, the Minister of National Security, added: “Today’s ruling affirms that equality is for all — regardless of who you love, what you look like or who you pray to. And equality, when it’s real, isn’t conditional. Let’s acknowledge that there’s a tremendous amount of work to do, right here at home, to move barriers and heal our community. Let’s keep working together, let’s build this community of supporters and champions for equality.

“And despite hurtful attacks let us reach across and engage the most sceptical citizens and show them that Bermudian values; values of love, respect and inclusiveness, can be found in every corner of this island.”

However, Preserve Marriage labelled the ruling as an attack on traditional values, claiming it has worsened the divide in Bermuda.

The group stated: “Today a single judge, Justice Charles-Etta Simmons, of the Supreme Court of Bermuda has decided to redefine the institution of marriage.

“By imposing this judgment, the court has ruled against many in the community of Bermuda.”

Mrs Justice Simmons noted that the Bermuda courts had already struck down legislation that discriminated against a same-sex male couple from adopting a child and treated a non-Bermudian same-sex partner of a Bermudian differently from a non-Bermudian opposite-sex partner of a Bermudian.

The ruling states: “Against the legal, social and cultural back drop of changing attitudes regarding same-sex relationships and sexual orientation it is fair to say that notions such as marriage or the institution of marriage being predicated upon heterosexual procreation and marriage being the main and most effective means of rearing healthy, happy and well-adjusted children, to borrow a phrase from the Chief Justice, have been turned on their heads.

“Their historic and insular perspective as reflected in the common law definition of marriage is out of step with the reality of Bermuda in the 20th century.”

To see the judgment in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”

Editor’s note: given the landmark nature of this case, The Royal Gazette will divert from normal policy and allow comments. However, the thread will be closely monitored, with the worst offenders summarily banned before any final decision is taken to close comments

Landmark case: Winston Godwin, left, and Greg DeRoche