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Government appeals same-sex ruling

Home affairs minister Walton Brown (File photograph)

The Bermuda Government is to appeal a landmark Supreme Court decision reversing the island’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The proceedings against the June 6 ruling by Chief Justice Ian Kawaley were confirmed yesterday by Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs.

Mr Brown said the ministry looked forward to taking the case to the Court of Appeal.

The move was welcomed by campaigners against same-sex marriage — but attacked by supporters. OutBermuda, a gay rights group, said: “We will never surrender equality for all Bermudians and especially the LGBTQ families and couples who deserve it.”

Tony Brannon, an activist who launched a petition in 2015 in a bid to legalise same-sex marriage, said the appeal was “another cog in the wheel of the Government trying to deny people equality”.

But Melvyn Bassett, chairman of Preserve Marriage, a group set up to fight a move to same-sex marriage, said: “We’re pleased that the Government has made this decision.

“It is in keeping with the efforts we have made to try and ensure that same-sex marriage is not part of our community.”

The appeal will challenge Chief Justice Ian Kawaley’s ruling earlier this month, which struck down parts of the Domestic Partnership Act on constitutional grounds.

Mr Justice Kawaley found in favour of gay Bermudians Rod Ferguson and Maryellen Jackson, who claimed the legislation was unconstitutional.

The Domestic Partnership Act, passed by Parliament last December, reversed a Supreme Court ruling from May last year which paved the way for gay couples to marry in Bermuda and on island-registered ships around the world.

The legislation came into force on June 1 and revoked the right of same-sex couples to marry and offered them, and heterosexual couples, legally recognised civil unions.

However, the Chief Justice found the DPA was inconsistent with the Constitution, which protects the right to freedom of conscience and outlaws discrimination on the basis of creed.

Bermuda became the only country in the world to have allowed gay marriage and then revoked it after the DPA was passed.

The decision caught world attention and provoked both anger and derision as Bermuda became a target for jokes by international stars.

Mr Brannon predicted the latest move would “once again put Bermuda into a bad spotlight in the international media”.

But he added: “We have every reason to be optimistic. This Court of Appeal process will happen and we may win or they may win. If they win, we go to the Privy Council, where I am pretty sure we would win lock, stock and barrel.”

Mr Brannon said it would still put Bermudian taxpayers through “huge expense”.

He added that he had informed LGBT rights groups Stonewall in the UK and Human Rights Campaign in the United States of the latest twist.

The list of businesses that have signed up to support marriage equality hit 190 last night on his site samelovebermuda.com.

But Dr Bassett said opponents of same-sex marriage would “fight to the end — whatever that may be”.

He highlighted that voters turned down both same-sex partnerships and civil unions in a 2016 referendum — although the low turnout meant the results were ruled to be invalid.

But Dr Bassett insisted: “Bermuda has spoken, and the country spoke at the election.

“It is no longer Preserve Marriage’s fight — the Government has taken it up.

“We are hoping that the Government will do what they believe the people have asked.”

But Mr Ferguson said yesterday that LGBTQ Bermudians had “inched closer to our goal of restoring marriage equality” a month ago and regretted the Government’s decision to appeal.

Mr Ferguson added that supporters of human rights would “summon our voices and resources again as a united community to prevail”.

OutBermuda, which served as a co-litigant in the original lawsuit, will again join forces with Mr Ferguson, Ms Jackson and allies.

Adrian Hartnett-Beasley, one of OutBermuda’s directors, said: “We have strength not only in justice but in our numbers, including our respected faith leaders like Sylvia Hayward-Harris, along with citizen-activists including Julia and Judith Aidoo-Saltus, Chai T, Wesley Methodist Church, and Douglas NeJaime.

“We’ve made outstanding progress with our business advocates led by Carnival Corporation and many encouraging Bermudian-owned/based businesses and employers.”

Rod Attride Stirling and Mark Pettingill will again represent OutBermuda in court.