Church should ‘choose for itself’ over SSM
Legislation to axe same-sex marriage robbed churches of the ability to make their own decisions on the issue, the Supreme Court heard yesterday.
Gordon Campbell, on behalf of the trustees of the Wesley Methodist Church, said in an affidavit that the Domestic Partnership Act would tie the hands of all churches to decide whether to celebrate gay marriages or not.
Dr Campbell added: “Our congregation will lose the right to choose for itself. We will have no choice but to conform to the beliefs of churches and individuals who, for their own religious reasons, oppose same-sex marriage (for whose benefit the ban was enacted). This, we argue, hinders our freedom of conscience and of religion and is unconstitutional.”
The affidavit said all churches should be able to choose whether to carry out same-sex marriages.
Dr Campbell said: “We deeply respect the churches and groups with whom we disagree on this issue.
He added: “We believe that we have more in common with the churches who disagree with us on this issue, than have things that divide us.
“We believe that we and they all want to act in the way which we believe is right and consistent with our own religious views.”
The affidavit was one of several presented to the Supreme Court as it heard arguments over the legality of the DPA.
Rod Attride-Stirling, representing gay rights organisation OutBermuda and gay Bermudian MaryEllen Jackson, argued that the Domestic Partnership Act is unconstitutional because it has a religious purpose.
Mr Attride-Stirling also argued that the DPA disadvantaged organisations who believed in same-sex marriage.
Ms Jackson, in a separate affidavit, said being gay in Bermuda had forced her to live a double life.
She added that she had grown up cherishing the institution of marriage and was delighted when a court ruled in favour of same-sex marriage.
Ms Jackson said: “I look forward to one day being married. Marriage has a deep meaning to me.”
She felt that domestic partnership was a “cheap imitation” of marriage and a symbol of the Government's decision to revoke same-sex marriage rights.
Ms Jackson said: “I don't want to be separate but equal. I want to be equal.”
Julia Saltus, a Bermudian lawyer, was also delighted by the ruling allowing same-sex marriage and later married her now-wife Judith.
Ms Saltus said the marriage gave her relationship a higher level of recognition and that there was a privilege inherent in the state of matrimony.
Sylvia Hayward-Harris, Bermudian pastor of the Vision Church of Atlanta, said the DPA would interfere with her ability to conduct same-sex marriages.
She added that the ability to conduct gay marriages was an important part of her religious beliefs.
The court also heard evidence from a brief made by the American Psychological Association which said the denial of the right to marry to same-sex couples was “detrimental to their wellbeing”.
Mr Attride-Stirling also read an affidavit from cruise line Carnival, which has ships registered on the island, which said the company had been encouraged to leave Bermuda as a result of the DPA.
He said: “Carnival's position is they didn't wish to turn and run and abandon the gay community in Bermuda, so instead of doing that they decided to fight to change the law.”
Mr Attride-Stirling pointed out that the DPA stemmed from a Private Members' Bill put forward by Wayne Furbert, a Progressive Labour Party MP who wanted to block same-sex marriage.
The lawyer quoted an interview with Mr Furbert on his Bill.
Mr Furbert said then: “I must admit this comes from a religious perspective.”
Mr Attride-Stirling argued the Government had to give a secular justification for the revocation of same-sex marriage but had not done so.
He said: “There was one single reason for all of this. That was to satisfy the religious lobby.”
The Supreme Court ruled in favour of gay couple Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche last year when they took legal action against the Registrar-General in the wake of a refusal to post their wedding banns.
The ruling opened the way for other same-sex couples to marry on the island.
But Parliament passed the DPA, which was created to replace same-sex marriages with partnership arrangements open to both gay and straight couples, last December.
Rod Ferguson, represented by Mark Pettingill, launched a legal action against the Attorney-General in February.
His aim is to get the court to declare the legislation void on the grounds it is in breach of fundamental constitutional rights.
OutBermuda and Ms Jackson launched a similar lawsuit and the Supreme Court decided to hear both cases together.
Dr Campbell and Ms Hayward-Harris were added as parties to the case this week.