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Delight as gay couples again win right to marry

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

Chief Justice Ian Kawaley’s ruling in favour of marriage equality prompted a loud round of applause from the public gallery yesterday, and an even more joyful reaction outside the courtroom.

Campaigners who launched the legal battle against the Attorney-General to have sections of the new Domestic Partnership Act declared invalid said they were thrilled to have won the case as they left the Supreme Court surrounded by supporters.

Bermudian Rod Ferguson, who filed the initial civil writ and was later joined by fellow plaintiffs Maryellen Jackson and OutBermuda, said the verdict and its significance in terms of equality in Bermuda was still sinking in.

Grinning broadly, the comedian told The Royal Gazette: “This is amazing. This ruling is for equality. It seems like just a word but it means so much. It sends such a big message.”

He said the DPA, passed by Parliament to revoke a Supreme Court ruling from May last year which enabled gay marriages to take place, gave the wrong impression to the world about Bermuda.

“I view [my involvement] partly as a patriotic act, to help Bermuda correct its image,” said Mr Ferguson.

“It’s wonderful. I don’t know if I have taken in the impact but definitely I had tears in my eyes when it came to the realisation of what was happening.”

Mr Ferguson joked that he didn’t have a fiancé but hoped to marry one day and was available for dates, including “long walks on pink-sand beaches”.

“I’m naturally always looking for humour and levity,” he said, adding that he felt a “real sense of relief” that the island’s gay community had “restored itself to where we were this time last year”.

He added: “Hopefully, we don’t have to fight this one again. Foremost in our minds is the message this sends to young people in Bermuda that there are proud gay and lesbian Bermudians who don’t buy the line that there is any shame in being gay.”

Ms Jackson said: “It is amazing to be a part of it, and everyone wins.”

She said she looked forward to celebrating the judgment and was confident any appeal would fail.

“I’m not nervous about the appeals process. I feel the judgment has been made, and the judgment is based on the facts, so I see no reason to be nervous about that.

“We have been waiting a long time for this. I’m thrilled that things seem to be moving in the right way for us.”

OutBermuda deputy chairman Adrian Hartnett-Beasley said Bermuda was “incredibly fortunate to have people like Maryellen Jackson and Roderick Ferguson to lead this fight, to put a face on such an important issue”.

Those watching yesterday from the public gallery, where there was standing room only as proceedings began, included Winston and Greg Godwin-DeRoche, the plaintiffs in the case that led to last year’s landmark ruling.

Julia and Judith Aidoo-Saltus, the first gay couple to wed here after that judgment was handed down, were also there, along with former Progressive Labour Party MP Renée Webb.

Ms Webb, who fought for an amendment to the Human Rights Act to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation more than a decade ago, said: “I think that justice has prevailed. What’s good for a straight person is good for a gay person. We have to have full equality.”

Winston Godwin-DeRoche said it was fitting that the decision was handed down during global Pride Month.

“I am happy. I think it is a great day for the LGBT community as a whole, especially given that it is such a significant month.”

Judith Aidoo-Saltus said the Government should let the ruling stand and allow justice to prevail.

“Let this be a graceful end note to a divisive issue,” she said. “The bottom line is that same-sex couples exist in Bermuda, they fall in love, they decide to marry or come together.

“Whether we call it a civil union or a marriage does make a difference. Let us choose which institution we want to follow.”

Her Bermudian wife added: “The message is this: same-sex marriage is dead. Marriage lives. There is no distinction.”

Tony Brannon, who launched a petition for same-sex marriage in April 2015 and has been a prolific campaigner since, said: “I’m delighted with the Chief Justice’s decision. Justice was done today for equality and human rights. I hope the Government finally accepts this.”