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Premier urged to drop SSM appeal

Gay pride: from left, Greg and Winston Godwin-DeRoche, and plaintiffs Rod Ferguson and Maryellen Jackson celebrate victory outside the Supreme Court (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

An international group of human rights lawyers has asked the Premier to back a Supreme Court decision to lift a ban on same-sex marriages.

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute has written to David Burt and challenged him to show leadership to Caribbean countries that discriminate against gay people.

The letter was sent as the Bermuda Government prepares to launch an appeal against a ruling by former Chief Justice Ian Kawaley that allowed gay marriage.

IBAHRI also wrote to Boris Johnson, then the UK Foreign Secretary, to condemn the UK Government’s failure to advise John Rankin, the Governor, to refuse to give Royal Assent to the Domestic Partnership Act, which put a block to gay marriage last December.

The letter to Mr Burt welcomed the “positive development made by the Bermuda Supreme Court with respect to the human rights of the LGBTI citizens of Bermuda”.

It added: “The IBAHRI urges the Government of Bermuda to support fully the judgment of the Supreme Court, implement it in good faith and give leadership to countries of the Caribbean which continue to discriminate against their citizens, contrary to universal human rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The IBAHRI said the Supreme Court decision is in line with the principle of non-discrimination and equality in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

It added the United Nations Human Rights Committee had confirmed that different treatment based on sexual orientation was discrimination under the ICCPR and that equality and respect are values protected in the Charter of the Commonwealth.

The letter said: “Following the decision of the Supreme Court, we respectfully urge that the Government of Bermuda adopt a policy of removing all like discrimination against sexual minorities, in both criminal and civil laws, within its own jurisdiction and urging their removal in other countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean.

“With the benefit of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Bermuda, the Government of Bermuda should give leadership and example to neighbouring countries in this important area of human rights law and policy.”

The letter was dated June 21, about three weeks before Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, confirmed the Government would appeal the court decision and was signed by IBAHRI chairmen Hans Corell and Michael Kirby.

The International Bar Association, established in 1947, has a membership of more than 80,000 lawyers and 190 bar associations and law societies, spanning more than 170 countries.

Its letter to Mr Johnson is also dated June 21, a month before Mr Johnson resigned as Foreign Secretary.

In it, the IBAHRI expressed “our concern at the failure of the United Kingdom Government to advise his Excellency, the Governor of Bermuda, to withhold the Royal Assent to the seriously discriminatory legislation purportedly adopted by the legislature of Bermuda”.

The letter said Mr Rankin signed the Domestic Partnership Act into law after it was debated in UK Parliament in January.

It said: “In this way, the United Kingdom Parliament became itself an actor in the deprivation of human rights and equality of LGBTI Bermudan citizens.

“While the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom [Theresa May] offered apologies at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April for the past introduction into dominions, colonies and territories of the UK of laws that criminalised LGBTI people, thereby exposing them to legal inequality, hostility and violence, it had the opportunity of avoiding such consequences in the present case but failed to act in accordance with its own laws and asserted principles.”

The IBAHRI has written a third letter to Baroness Patricia Scotland, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, to underline its “deep regret” at its silence over same-sex marriage.

Bermuda became the only country in the world to allow gay marriage and then revoke it after the Domestic Partnership Act.

The DPA 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, civil unions instead,

Mr Justice Kawaley ruled the DPA was at odds with the Constitution, which protects the right to freedom of conscience and outlaws discrimination on the basis of creed.

The Royal Gazette asked Mr Burt and the Foreign Office for comment, but neither had replied by press time.

To read the letters from the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute to David Burt, Boris Johnson and Patricia Scotland, click on the PDFs under “Related Media”.

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