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Gay marriage pioneer upbeat over Privy Council hearing

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Same sex marriage in Bermuda (Infographic by Terrina Nolan)
Winston Godwin (left) and husband Greg DeRoche at Pride 2019 (Photograph by Sam Strangeways)
Winston Godwin (right) with Greg DeRoche before they married (Photograph supplied)

The Bermudian who launched the legal fight for marriage equality four years ago said he was optimistic about how it would end – and about the future for gay people on the island.

Winston Godwin said: “There are always going to be pockets of people who don’t support you.

“But there is so much love and light in Bermuda. You have just got to find it.”

Mr Godwin and then fiance Greg DeRoche, a Canadian, launched a civil lawsuit claiming discrimination by the Government in 2017 after the Registrar-General refused to post their marriage banns.

They won a landmark Supreme Court ruling in May that year and paved the way for same-sex couples to marry.

A total of 30 couples have done so since.

But the judgment was not the end of the controversy.

The Government did not appeal the ruling, but instead passed a law that introduced domestic partnerships for gay and straight couples, which included a clause designed to outlaw same-sex marriage.

Mr Godwin, who married Mr DeRoche in Toronto after the ruling, has since supported other campaigners, including Bermudians Rod Ferguson and Maryellen Jackson, as they have challenged the DPA through the courts.

A hearing at the island’s highest court of appeal, the Privy Council in London, scheduled to start tomorrow will decide the case.

Mr Godwin said: “I am absolutely hoping that the Privy Council kind of shuts down the Government’s appeal.

“It’s kind of done. You have taken it to the very end. There is no more.”

He added: “Whether it’s something the Government truly care about, I think is irrelevant. They are just trying to say ’we did what we could’. There is no other reason at this point.”

Mr Godwin said neither the Government nor anyone else opposed to marriage equality had shown why same-sex marriages were a problem for Bermuda or how they affected anyone else’s life.

He added: “I think people are tired of it anyway. It’s not on their radar.

“There are a lot more things that are a lot more important than this one issue. It’s time to let go.”

Mr Godwin and his husband live in Toronto, where he works at the city’s aquarium.

But Mr Godwin insisted the couple’s move overseas was not sparked by the Government’s actions or the campaign against same-sex marriage mounted by religious activists.

And he said he believed the island had made progress on gay rights.

Mr Godwin added: “I think people are slowly catching on and seeing that ’hey, we are just like anybody else’.”.

“Maybe it’s also a shift because of the Black Lives Matter movement and those kind of things that have played a role.”

He said the similarities between BLM and the gay rights movement were clear last summer when BLM protests happened at the same time as Gay Pride marches.

Mr Godwin added: “Those conversations about race are just as important as those conversations about sexual orientation. That intersectionality is there.

“It should be realised that you can exist in both spheres.”

Mr Godwin said life as an “out” gay man in Bermuda, after years when he was unable to be himself openly, was a mostly positive experience.

He and Mr DeRoche took part in the island’s first Gay Pride parade in 2019, alongside more than 5,000 other people.

Mr Godwin said: “I had a very jaded outlook … but I gained a lot more respect and love for Bermuda.

“There are so many people that are supportive that I had no idea were supportive.

“For people to just approach me and thank me and tell me how strong and courageous I am, it kind of validates what we had done to get to that point.”

By the numbers

Same-sex marriages on island

2017: 10

2018: 6 (3 male and 3 female couples)

2019: 4 (3 male and 1 female couples)

2020: 10 (4 male and 6 female couples)

2021: 0

Total: 30

Same-sex divorces

2019: 1

Domestic partnerships

2018: 2 (1 same-sex female couple and one opposite-sex couple)

2019: 4 (1 same-sex male couple and 3 opposite-sex couples)

2020: 8 (all opposite sex couples)

2021: 2 (both opposite-sex couples)

Total: 16

Same-sex marriages on Bermuda-registered ships

2017: 2 (both male couples)

2018: 4 (2 male and 2 female couples)

2019: 2 (both male couples)

2020: 0

2021: 0

Total: 8

Sources: Registry General and Government of Bermuda Digest of Statistics 2020

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Published February 02, 2021 at 12:19 pm (Updated February 02, 2021 at 12:19 pm)

Gay marriage pioneer upbeat over Privy Council hearing

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