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Gay couple to file banns after court ruling

Eugene O'Connor plans to file banns for a same-sex marriage

A Bermudian is planning to file his banns in quick order after Friday’s Supreme Court gay marriage ruling, telling The Royal Gazette: “I would love to get married in my own country.”

Eugene O’Connor, who was born and raised in Bermuda, joins many members of the LGBTQ community in celebration of the ruling which they believe marks the first step in stamping out discrimination. Meanwhile, Progressive Labour Party MP Wayne Furbert told this newspaper he is “deeply considering” re-tabling an amendment Bill that would solidify marriage as being between a man and a woman.

The amendments, which were rejected by the Senate last year after winning approval from the House of Assembly, would state that nothing in the Human Rights Act would override the provisions in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1974, which stipulates that marriages that are not between a man and a woman are void.

Mr Furbert added that he believes that a binding referendum should be held to give the public a chance to make the final decision.

Last Friday, Puisne Judge Charles- Etta Simmons ruled in favour of Bermudian Winston Godwin and his Canadian fiancé, Greg DeRoche, who had fought for equal rights after the Registrar-General rejected their application to marry on the island.

Yesterday, Mr O’Connor said he has filled out the information required to apply for his banns and will file them at the earliest opportunity.

“It is quite significant for me, I would love to get married in my own country,” he told The Royal Gazette.

“It is definitely a step forward and a huge accomplishment. Speaking to my fellow gay friends, they are all ecstatic that it has finally gone through and that the judge actually went in with an open heart and realised what they were doing was wrong. We are consenting adults. Loads of Bermudians want to come back to Bermuda — this little act of bringing equal rights is making people want to come home.

“We [my fiancé and I] spoke about it today and I have already filled out the form. Before the ruling we thought that even if we went away to get married we would come back to where we both live and it would not be recognised — we thought we shouldn’t get married as an added expense because it wouldn’t hold any legs in Bermuda. If it came to the point that it was that big of an issue, we even thought about relocating.”

Mr O’Connor said he comes from a religious background but his life decisions have not been directly impacted by this. He said: “I come from a very traditional family, my mother is Catholic, I was brought up in the Anglican Church. I am very spiritual and religious but there is a lot of biblical nonsense going on. I am a very conservative type. I don’t push it in people’s faces, I just think it is normal that I live my life and you live your life. Some have had it a lot worse than I have.

“My lifestyle and choices are my business. My mother always used to say to me, ‘Are they paying your Belco bill? So why do you care what they are doing?’”

Mr O’Connor’s fiancé, who wishes to remain anonymous, added: “I feel more secure and emotionally I can now give the relationship my all.”

Community activist and member of the LGBTQ community Linda Mienzer said that she also intends on having a same-sex marriage in Bermuda. And while she believes the ruling was “a victory for Bermuda”, she believes the island still has a long way to go because of “religious hypocrisy”.

Ms Mienzer said: “My initial reaction was shock that after such a long journey we had finally arrived at this place. We still have a long way to go — we are supposedly a very religious country but I don’t think that is challenged enough because the same people who would throw the bible at me are offenders of all sorts of rules of the bible.

“We operate in a society where it’s ‘don’t ask don’t tell’. As long as you present the image of what people think you should fall into then we will just go along and be happy on our merry way. But if you step outside that box then you are ostracised and shunned — it is a very unhealthy environment. I come from a black community who are all up in arms about discrimination because of colour, but who are discriminating against me because me because of my sexuality — that is a very difficult thing to reconcile.

“Will this ruling fix all our ills? Absolutely not, but this is one step closer to acknowledging that people have a right to equal access.”

Ms Mienzer said a line has to be drawn between church and state: “Every religion is entitled to the freedom of how they want their churches to operate but I don’t think they have the right to dictate how government services operate.”

She gave credit to Mr Furbert, saying he gave her a hug after the ruling, telling her he had nothing against her personally.

Mr Furbert told this newspaper that he wants to speak with his colleagues before deciding whether to go ahead with his amendment. He said: “I am deeply considering it. I have had a lot of calls and e-mails suggesting I push this on. They are putting the pressure on me, that is for sure.”

But ultimately he wished for the decision on same-sex marriage to be put firmly in the hands of the public, criticising the One Bermuda Alliance’s decision to hold a non-binding referendum in June of last year.

“We need another referendum that is binding. Why have a non-binding referendum? What are people going to come out for, a Sunday walk? They didn’t take it seriously.”

Adrian Hartnett-Beasley, a gay Bermudian who married overseas, said he is proud of the courts for “building out a more just and equal framework, where the legislature failed us”.

However, he remained cautious in his optimism, adding: “While marriage equality is one of the issues facing Bermuda’s LGBTQ community, there are many more that affect us on a day-to-day basis and the often hostile Bermuda environment makes simple matters difficult and legal avenues are just not often feasible.”

Action group Preserve Marriage strongly criticised the ruling on Friday, calling it “an attack on traditional marriage and an attack on Christian and other faith-based and traditional values”. The group also highlighted that Bermuda has become the only country to introduce same-sex marriage through the ruling of a single judge.

Mr Hartnett-Beasley added: “Preserve Marriage and MP Wayne Furbert have already publicly shown their discontent and disagreement with the decision. Neither the OBA nor the PLP have come out publicly with a statement of support; there are undoubtedly disagreements within each party on how to handle this topic, especially in an election year.

“Hopefully marriage equality and LGBTQ rights generally are not going to be a political football during 2017.”

Mark Anderson, a Bermudian who has stood up for equal rights for many years, told The Royal Gazette: “I never thought in my wildest dreams that this would happen — not in my lifetime. It is great for Bermuda.”

Mr Anderson said he will be organising a celebratory event on June 5 — one month after the ruling.

And Joe Gibbons, a Bermudian who married his partner overseas, added: “For those who are married, it makes all the aspects of hetero marriage apply. It also makes it possible for same-sex couples to more comfortably adopt, and plan a future life. And despite the nonsense, the only people impacted by this change are LGBT. Otherwise life goes on as usual.”

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