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Activist: case is a big win for LGBTQs regardless of result

A court bid to ensure gay people in Bermuda do not lose the right to marry was a “big win” whatever the outcome of the case, according to the leaders of an LGBTQ charity.

Adrian Hartnett-Beasley and Zakiya Lord, deputy chairpersons of OutBermuda, told The Royal Gazette that no matter what the Chief Justice rules on the constitutional challenge heard in the Supreme Court last week, the proceedings were a success.

“There are some days where I think if you live a life as a gay person in Bermuda, it’s an act of bravery every day,” Mr Hartnett-Beasley said.

“This is a win for all the young LGBTQ kids that are out there that maybe haven’t even identified their sexuality.

“They are looking at us as the generation above them.

“We are showing up for them, even if we don’t know them. We are showing up for them with our voices, with our visibility and with our money.”

Ms Lord said the civil proceedings sent a clear message to young LGBTQ people and their allies in Bermuda to “keep showing up for themselves, keep showing up for each other”.

She said: “Our goal is to keep showing up for the LGBT community.

“They can decide what that looks like tomorrow, but this is what it looks like today.”

The civil hearing before Chief Justice Ian Kawaley centred on two lawsuits filed against the Attorney-General.

The first was brought by Rod Ferguson, a gay Bermudian who claimed he had been subjected to “inhuman or degrading treatment” with the passing of the Domestic Partnership Act, which will introduce civil unions for all and outlaw gay weddings when it comes into force on June 1.

OutBermuda then filed a separate suit, along with gay Bermudian Maryellen Jackson, which echoed Mr Ferguson’s claim that the legislation was unconstitutional. The two cases were joined to be dealt with at the same four-day hearing, where the legal arguments focused largely on how to define “creed” and “freedom of conscience” - both protected rights under the Constitution.

Lauran Sadler-Best, for the Attorney-General, said the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate a “common creed”.

But OutBermuda said its submissions to the court did just that. The submissions contained nine affidavits from various individuals, including the first gay couple to marry here, representatives from two churches, and an executive from Carnival Cruise Line, which has partially funded the litigation.

Mr Hartnett-Beasley said the intention was to add “more visible faces and stories before the courts so they can understand LGBT Bermudians and their allies”.

He added: “Whether it’s a win or lose for the law, it’s a big win for our community, no question. I am really proud of the work that OutBermuda has been doing

“What we brought to the table were a further spectrum of views on why this is unconstitutional and that played out in the numerous affidavits we put in, showing the support from a cross-section of Bermuda.”

Ms Jackson, 50, who is single and has a 15-year-old daughter, said she had no regrets about stepping forward to put her name on one of the lawsuits and had encountered “no backlash” from the community. “I didn’t think the whole thing was fair and [I thought] that something should be done,” she said. “The opportunity came and I was like, maybe I am the person I have been waiting for to step forward. And [I should] do it for myself, recognising that everyone benefits. I can’t complain about a right being taken from me, if I don’t exercise my right to protect it.”

Mr Ferguson, 39, who is also single, said: “It’s been a really positive experience in the sense that it’s connected me more with the LGBT community.”

He said he left the island for college at a time when it was not safe to be openly gay in Bermuda. “People have reached out to me over Facebook, mostly LGBT members of the community of Bermuda, who I had no way of connecting with when I was here because none of us were out. To see and meet people who are part of the community, who came in to attend the hearing - that was a positive experience for me.”

Mr Ferguson said he had “no sense” of what the outcome of the case would be, but added: “I do trust that the Chief Justice was doing a really good job and was thorough in his investigations and exploration of these principles.”

The Supreme Court ruled in favour of gay couple Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche last year after they sued the Registrar-General for refusing to post their wedding banns. The decision paved the way for other gay couples to wed here, but eight months later Parliament passed the DPA.

Mr Ferguson, OutBermuda and Ms Jackson are asking the court to declare void the parts of the Act which revoke the right to same-sex marriage. Mr Pettingill said the mantra of the current case was: “You have the right to love and happiness.”

He added: “That is your right within your conscience and your creed. You have the right to be a gay person and to be married to a person of the same-sex. The real crux is that this became an existing right after Godwin and was then taken away by the state, who are effectively telling you how to express your love and happiness and that you can’t do it this way, you have to do it this way.”

Mr Justice Kawaley reserved judgment to a later date.

It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. 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.