Activists wait for Privy Council same-sex marriage ruling
An LGBTQ rights charity has continued its support work as it “patiently” awaits the outcome of a legal battle about same-sex marriage in Bermuda, its head said yesterday.
Adrian Hartnett-Beasley, of OUTBermuda, added that there was still another way to achieve marriage equality if the Privy Council did not side with the campaign group.
Top lawyers argued a year ago at the Privy Council in London, the island’s top appeal court, about whether same-sex marriage should be banned.
A judgment has yet to be handed down, but a Privy Council spokeswoman insisted that the wait was not unusual.
Mr Hartnett-Beasley said: “We do not have an indication for when the decision will be completed or handed down and of course we are patiently waiting — we understand that it is not common for parties to be told in advance.
“We are aware of the length of time that it has taken, having now been a full year.”
He added: “That said, and having been involved in litigation previously, we know that a decision takes the time that it is supposed to take and we have every confidence that the Privy Council will be taking this matter appropriately seriously.”
Mr Hartnett-Beasley said: “Either way that the decision comes down, OUTBermuda has continued to execute on its other work supporting the LGBTQ community.”
He highlighted that the organisation was hiring an executive director and that its board had expanded to eight members.
Mr Hartnett-Beasley said: “There are many other issues facing the LGBTQ community here and we've continued working with stakeholders and our community to identify and plan for those going forward.”
The Privy Council held hearings last February to decide if a clause in the 2018 Domestic Partnership Act that banned same-sex marriage was legal.
Lord Pannick, QC, who appeared for OUTBermuda and four other litigants, argued that same-sex marriage would not stop people who believed that only opposite-gender couples should be allowed to marry from the practice of their faith.
He told the board of UK judges: “The wish of some people to live in a society in which other people are not allowed to marry because they are a same-sex couple is not a reasonable aim.”
Jonathan Crow, QC, who represented the Attorney-General of Bermuda, said earlier that the legislated ban was not discriminatory.
He argued that legislation could have a religious purpose — provided it did not have a negative effect on the rights of the public.
The five-member board of judges reserved judgment.
Mr Hartnett-Beasley said: “If the decision does not come down in our favour, OUTBermuda would take stock and determine if and how the marriage equality conversation can be continued here at home.
“Just because the Privy Council rules one way in this constitutional case, marriage equality can still be reintroduced on the island by the repealing of Section 53 of the Domestic Partnership Act.”
The legislation said that a marriage was “void unless the parties are respectively male and female”.
Melvyn Bassett, of Preserve Marriage and Family Bermuda, which campaigned against same-sex marriages and civil unions, said that there was nothing his organisation could do after the judgment was delivered.
He added: “There’s no further decision beyond the Privy Council.”
Dr Bassett said that the group’s focus was on “supporting families where we can”.
He explained: “Sometimes people will call us and ask us to try to resolve some family issues.
“We had hoped to have some activities, but Covid has eliminated that possibility.”
Rod Attride-Stirling, a Bermudian barrister who assisted Lord Pannick, said that the Privy Council “normally” took up to nine months to make decisions.
But he added: “Sometimes they take longer. I cannot comment on what the reason may be for the delay in this instance.
“We are patiently awaiting the ruling.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Reform said: “The Government has not received any indication of when the Privy Council will hand down a decision.
“We do not consider it appropriate to make any further comment while the Privy Council is still considering this case.”
A Privy Council spokeswoman said that the case was "not unusual“.
She added: “We do not have a date set for this judgment hand-down at present.
“We announce judgment hand-downs a week in advance and it is not unusual for cases to take several months to reach the hand-down stage.”
OUTBermuda earlier won judgments in its favour at the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal on constitutional grounds.
They followed a judgment from the Supreme Court in 2017, which ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage was discrimination under the Human Rights Act.
The first judgment paved the way for gay couples to tie the knot in Bermuda.
The later judgments ruled that gay couples had the right to wed, despite the Domestic Partnership Act clause that ruled that the unions were not valid.
The Court of Appeal ruling found that the clause in the 2018 law which introduced civil unions for gay and straight couples was included for religious reasons, which is not allowed under Bermuda’s secular Constitution.
The appeal court also ruled that the clause breached a constitutional right to freedom of conscience.
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