‘Gay couples will still be able to marry in church’
Gay couples will still be able to wed in a church after a law designed to outlaw same-sex marriage comes into force — but the ceremonies will not have any legal standing, a lawyer told the Supreme Court yesterday.
Melvin Douglas, for the Attorney-General, said the Domestic Partnership Act, which comes into force next month, would not make people give up their convictions.
Mr Douglas told the court: “People are able to think and believe what they like.
“They will be, after the act comes into force, in exactly the same position as they are now.
“The manifestation of your belief doesn't require the state to enforce that manifestation.”
He explained that churches that wanted to celebrate same-sex marriage ceremonies after the DPA takes effect in June will still be able to, but without the effect of the partners being legally married.
Mr Douglas added: “If the Wesley Methodist Church would like to perform same-sex marriage, there is nothing to prevent them. It just would not have legal effect.”
Mr Douglas pointed out that affidavits from several applicants involved in the legal challenge to the DPA highlighted discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, but said discrimination on those grounds was not prohibited by the Constitution.
He added the Constitution protected “religion” and “creed”, but Mr Douglas insisted no “creed” had been defined in the case.
Mr Douglas argued an interpretation of the Constitution that required the Government to recognise any union blessed by a church could have wider consequences and might open the door to polygamy and what he called “bisexual marriage”.
However, Rod Attride-Stirling, representing gay rights group OutBermuda and gay Bermudian Maryellen Jackson, said there were other legal barriers to polygamy.
Mr Douglas also told the court it should not “guess” at any religious purpose behind the legislation.
Mr Douglas read parts of an affidavit by Rozy Azhar, Permanent Secretary to the Minister of Home Affairs, who said the DPA was born out of the civil union legislation drafted by the former One Bermuda Alliance Government, which was later abandoned.
She said several changes to the draft legislation were made by the Progressive Labour Party, including one designed to protect marriages that had already taken place.
Mr Douglas said the DPA was a “measured attempt” to ensure the rights of same-sex couples and satisfy the “majority who observe the traditional view of marriage should not be changed”.
He said: “The Government has done its best to provide equal rights and the courts should be slow to intervene unless there was a severe breach of human rights.”
Mr Douglas also challenged the suggestion that only religious people objected to same-sex marriage.
He claimed there was no evidence to support that view.
Mr Douglas said: “We don't know and the court shouldn't guess.”
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 decision paved the way for 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, with both cases being heard together.
The hearing is expected to conclude today.
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