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Government to pay same-sex legal bill

The Government has been ordered to pay costs to the couple who won the right for gay people to marry in Bermuda.

Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons ruled that all of Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche’s legal costs should be paid in relation to their claim that they were discriminated against under the Human Rights Act when the Registrar-General refused to post their wedding banns.

The charity Preserve Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage and was an intervener on the side of the Government in the civil proceedings, will not have to pay costs.

Mrs Justice Simmons said the group had a “genuine interest in the case, they were invited to intervene, and the case involved quasi-constitutional issues regarding fundamental rights”.

She added: “In all the circumstances, it seems to me that this is an appropriate case where costs should not be awarded against PMBL.”

The Human Rights Commission, an intervener on the side of the successful plaintiffs, did not win costs from the Government on the basis that it is funded from the public purse so any cost order would “achieve no more than a paper trail of accounting procedures”.

Mark Pettingill, who represented Mr Godwin and Mr DeRoche, told The Royal Gazette: “Obviously, I am not surprised that we were awarded costs.

“I do find it disappointing that Preserve Marriage, which was well funded, effectively got off the hook, but given their status as an intervener I am certainly not shocked.”

Preserve Marriage has applied to appeal Mrs Justice Simmons’s landmark May 5 ruling in favour of Mr Godwin and Mr DeRoche, as has a separate group led by former politician Maxwell Burgess.

Mr Pettingill said: “I do not think it will be as easy for them to avoid security for costs should they endeavour to move forward with some form of appeal.”

The latest ruling from the judge included the final wording of an order she was asked by the plaintiffs to make regarding the rights of gay couples to wed.

In her initial judgment, Mrs Justice Simmons made a draft order declaring certain sections of the Marriage Act 1944 inoperative where it referred to “man” and “wife” and marriage as being between “one man and one woman”, as well as a section of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1974, which declared marriage void unless the “parties are not respectively male and female”.

She proposed “reformulating” the Marriage Act to reflect the fact that same-sex couples were entitled to be married under that piece of legislation.

The judge’s final order does not suggest rewording the law.

Mrs Justice Simmons said in her September 22 ruling: “It is sufficient, in my view, and entirely consistent with my written judgement, as well as section 29 of the Human Rights Act, to simply make an order declaring the offending provisions of law to be inoperative and to provide the reason for it without any attempt on my part to reformulate the provisions.”

Lawyer Grant Spurling, who represented the plaintiffs alongside Mr Pettingill, said the latest judgment did not change at all the “practical application” of the initial ruling and gay couples would still be able to tie the knot.

The Government, Preserve Marriage and the Human Rights Commission did not respond to requests for comment by press time last night.

On occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on a story that we deem might inflame sensitivities. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche (Callie Nicole Photography)