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Second lawsuit over Domestic Partnerships

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Maryellen Jackson

A second lawsuit has been launched against new legislation which revokes the right of gay couples to marry in Bermuda.

Gay Bermudian Maryellen Jackson and charity OutBermuda have filed civil proceedings in the Supreme Court against the Attorney-General, claiming the Domestic Partnership Act is unconstitutional.

The legal bid is backed by cruise company Carnival Corporation, which has been offering gay weddings on its Bermudian-registered ships since a May 2017 Supreme Court ruling which, in effect, legalised same-sex marriage.

Carnival said yesterday: “We support marriage equality and we have been actively engaged in supporting efforts by OutBermuda — a registered charity that promotes and supports the wellbeing, health, dignity, security, safety and protection of the LGBTQ community in Bermuda — to legally challenge the action to again allow same-sex marriages on the island.”

It added: “Our engagement includes providing OutBermuda with financial, civic and public relations support, as well as involvement by our company. We will also file an affidavit supporting the legal action submitted by OutBermuda and Ms Jackson.

“We are sensitive as to why some travellers may consider avoiding Bermuda while this ban is in place. While we always abide by the laws of the countries we sail to and from, we believe travel and tourism brings people and cultures together in powerful ways. As a result, we believe it is important to stand by the LGBTQ community in Bermuda and its many allies to oppose any actions that restrict travel and tourism.”

The writ is the second to be filed against Attorney-General Kathy Lynn Simmons regarding the Domestic Protection Act, which was passed by Parliament in December and given assent by John Rankin, the Governor, in February.

Comedian Rod Ferguson issued the first legal challenge, claiming that the legislation was inconsistent with his fundamental rights as set out in the Constitution and subjected him to “inhuman or degrading treatment”. His case is due to be heard by the Chief Justice next month.

OutBermuda and Ms Jackson, represented by lawyer Rod Attride- Stirling, will ask for their case to be joined with his so they can be heard together.

They claim that Section 53 of the new Act, which says a marriage is void unless the parties are male and female, regardless of the Human Rights Act and the May 2017 judgment, contravenes the Constitution and discriminates against Ms Jackson and others and their right to freedom of conscience.

The originating summons states that Ms Jackson is a lesbian Bermudian who opposes the revocation of same-sex marriage.

“She is seeking a declaration that the provisions of the Domestic Partnership Act that revoke same-sex marriage violate her constitutional rights,” the writ says.

OutBermuda said in a statement: “While marriage equality is just one issue facing the LGBTQ+ community, OutBermuda believes it is well positioned to provide a legal voice on a topic that has recently been handled like a political football in Bermuda.

“Together, OutBermuda and Ms Jackson strongly oppose any measure to revoke the right to marry by the Bermuda Government and believe that the ruling originally handed down by the Supreme Court of Bermuda in May 2017 permitting same-sex marriage is good law.

“OutBermuda recognises it is far from alone on this issue and has strong support and allies, including Carnival Corporation, one of several cruise companies that sail to Bermuda.

“OutBermuda is proud to work with Carnival Corporation, which includes cruise line brands such as Cunard, P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises, as the company has a history of commitment to equality, inclusion and diversity.”

The charity and Carnival have enlisted the services of Bob Witeck, head of the Washington-based gay and lesbian-focused communications group Witeck Communications.

American news network CNBC reported on the lawsuit and Carnival’s involvement yesterday, describing the cruise firm as “taking a stand in the civil rights struggle in Bermuda”.

Six of Carnival Corporation’s nine cruise line brands will call upon Bermuda this year, with a total of 59 stops scheduled.

According to Carnival, its brands represent less than 15 percent of the cruise calls scheduled for Bermuda in 2018.

Rod Attride-Stirling of ASW Law Limited is to represent OutBermuda and Maryellen Jackson in a legal case against the Bermuda Government.