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Government loses same-sex battle

United in marriage: Bermudian Faith Bridges, right, and her wife, Carolyn Altman, hold hands after the Bermuda Court of Appeals ruled former Chief Justice Ian Kawaley was right to strike down sections of the Domestic Partnership Act, which was passed to replace same-sex marriage with a civil partnership arrangement (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Same-sex marriage became legal again yesterday after a landmark ruling by the Court of Appeal.

The court dismissed the Government’s claim that former Chief Justice Ian Kawaley was wrong to strike down sections of the Domestic Partnership Act, which was passed to replace same-sex marriage with a civil partnership arrangement.

The packed courtroom erupted with loud cheers as Sir Scott Baker, president of the Court of Appeal, announced the decision.

They broke into cheers again half an hour later when the court refused to delay the effect of its judgment.

The Government could still appeal the decision to the Privy Council, the final court of appeal for Bermuda.

Maryellen Jackson, who joined Roderick Ferguson and OutBermuda as respondents in the case, said it was an “amazing experience” to hear the decision.

She added: “It means everything. It means I can stay in Bermuda, I can have a life like everybody else has.

“I can aspire to having that and building that for myself, for my family, and be like everyone else.”

Ms Jackson said in a joint statement with Mr Ferguson: “Equality under the law is every Bermudian’s birthright. Bermuda’s LGBTQ community is strong and proud.

“When our voices join together, we will be heard, and we will continue to make progress.”

Mark Pettingill, Mr Ferguson’s lawyer, said: “We always felt that it was motivated by a religious purpose.

“That argument was upheld and we cannot be more thrilled.

“I hope the Government get a full and proper written opinion, as they should do, to read through this judgment very carefully, and arrive at the conclusion that it’s probably folly and not waste any more of the taxpayer’s money in this cause.”

He added: “The sun is going to come up tomorrow.

“Hopefully, some people will get married and will get on with their lives. That’s where we need to be at now.”

Bermudian Faith Bridges, who was in the courtroom with her wife Carolyn Altman, from the US, said she hoped that the decision meant an end to a long-running legal battle.

She said: “We were nervous. We didn’t know what the answer was going to be or that they would come to the right conclusion.

“Either way, those who want to get married will, be it here or somewhere else.

“We were married away, but we hope this will mean that people who want to get married in our country are able to.”

Mrs Altman added: “It’s validation.

“It’s good to be recognised here, without any doubts.”

Winston Godwin, who won the landmark case that opened the door to same-sex marriage last year, said he was relieved by the latest ruling.

Mr Godwin said: “I do hope they won’t bring this to the Privy Council.

“How many times do we have to justify our love and fight this? How many people does it take?

“Love won in the past, love won again and now today love was reaffirmed.”

He said the ruling sent a message to the LGBTQ community that they are respected in Bermuda, and their relationships are of equal value.

Zakiya Johnson Lord, spokeswoman for gay rights charity OutBermuda, said: “This ruling makes history for Bermuda and our nation’s dedication to equality and fairness for all citizens, including our LGBTQ families.

“We believe there is nothing more fundamental than the right to marry the one we love.”

The Government can apply for the matter to be heard by London’s Privy Council within the next 21 days.

If the Privy Council agreed to hear the case, it could stay the effect of the Court of Appeal judgment.

Kathy Lynn Simmons, Attorney-General, said the Government would consider the judgment before it made a decision on its next move.

Sir Scott said in a written judgment that section 53 of the DPA — which prohibited same-sex marriage — went against a Constitutional right to freedom of conscience.

He added the section was invalid because it was designed to satisfy the “mainly religious” demands of campaign group Preserve Marriage Bermuda.

Sir Scott wrote: “Introducing a comprehensive scheme for same-sex relationships has nothing whatever to do with section 53.

“Indeed the remainder of the Act introduces civil partnerships for all couples, not just those of the same sex. Nor is section 53 in the Act for meeting the expectations of the LGBT community; the reverse is the case.

“As to mitigating the adverse publicity for Bermuda, this could only apply to the other provisions in the DPA giving same-sex couples along with others the right to enter civil partnerships.”

Sir Scott added: “The one purpose that did relate to the revocation provision is satisfying the religious demands of the opponents of same-sex couples — a religious purpose.”

Walter Roban, Minister of Home Affairs, said yesterday the Government had considered the viewpoints of all sides before tabling the DPA.

He added: “In considering whether to appeal this case, we must weigh the significant implications for the expectation of Bermudians that laws passed by their elected representatives and that reflect their democratically expressed views will be upheld.

“There are important issues at stake in this case and this government will fully consider the legal position and the fundamental constitutional issues in coming to a decision on next steps.”

To view the ruling in full, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”. On occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on a story that we deem might inflame sensitivities. 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.