Metro Weekly

Bermuda Supreme Court reverses law repealing marriage equality

Tourism industry came out strongly against the new law, which would not recognize same-sex couples as "married"

Front Street in Hamilton, Bermuda – Photo: Mdfii, via Wikimedia.

In a major blow to anti-LGBTQ forces, Bermuda’s Supreme Court reversed parts of its domestic partnership law that allow opposite-sex couples to retain the title of “married,” but prohibit same-sex couples from being recognized as such.

The domestic partnership law was proposed in response to a judge’s May 2017 ruling that Bermuda’s Registrar General could not reject a gay couple’s application to marry.

But due to widespread opposition among Bermuda natives — who adhere to a strict interpretation of Christianity — as well as Victorian-era British laws that penalize same-sex behavior in many of Britain’s former colonies, politicians caved to political pressure and passed the law in February 2018.

Under the law, both same-sex and opposite-sex couples were able to obtain domestic partnerships, but the word “marriage” would be exclusively reserved for heterosexual couples who wed.

Those of any sexual orientation who were already married would be able to retain the title without losing any rights — though, given the short time frame, such a designation only applied to a limited number of same-sex couples.

LGBTQ advocates blasted the law, noting that it was not only discriminatory but would be the first domino to fall as right-wing governments in countries or territories across the world would follow suit by attempting to repeal marriage equality.

Two LGBTQ Bermuda residents, Roderick Ferguson, a gay man, and Maryellen Jackson, a lesbian, sued Bermuda’s Attorney General over the new law, arguing that the discriminatory provisions in it be reversed.

Ferguson and Jackson offered a joint statement in response to the decision.

“We all came to the court with one purpose. That was to overturn the unfair provisions of the Domestic Partnership Act that tried to take away the rights of same-sex couples to marry,” the statement reads. “Revoking same-sex marriage is not merely unjust, but regressive and unconstitutional; the Court has now agreed that our belief in same-sex marriage as an institution is deserving of legal protection and that belief was treated by the Act in a discriminatory way under Bermuda’s Constitution.

Ferguson and Jackson added: “We continue to support domestic partnership rights for all Bermudians to choose, but not at the expense of denying marriage to some.”

The LGBTQ organization OUTBermuda issued a statement celebrating the court’s reversal of the discriminatory sections of the law.

“Love wins again! Our hearts and hopes are full, thanks to this historic decision by our Supreme Court and its recognition that all Bermuda families matter,” said Zakiya Johnson Lord and Adrian Hartnett-Beasley, the deputy chairpersons of OUTBermuda. “Equality under the law is our birthright, and we begin by making every marriage equal.”

The cruise industry, which did not want to discriminate against same-sex couples, came out in opposition to the new law, saying the ban on same-sex weddings only hurt cruise lines’ ability to attract wedding-related tourism. Carnival Corp., the parent company of a number of cruise lines, even announced it would provide financial and public relations support to OUTBermuda and other organizations fighting the new law.

Prior to the law’s passage, the CEO of the Bermuda Tourism Authority warned that the law would jeopardize Bermuda’s ability to attract tourists, particularly those wishing to travel to the island territory as part of “destination weddings.” 

“Significantly, it’s not only LGBT travelers that care about equal rights based on sexual orientation,” Kevin Dallas wrote in his letter to Bermudan lawmakers. “Our research indicates many companies, consumers and travelers, including the overwhelming majority of the younger visitors powering Bermuda’s growth, care about this issue.”

Dallas even cited backlash to anti-LGBTQ laws in the United States that financially hurt the state of North Carolina after it passed an anti-transgender “bathroom bill” that also stripped away the authority for localities in the state to pass nondiscrimination legislation, and a similar backlash that occurred in Indiana after then-Gov. Mike Pence passed an overreaching “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” that was seen as a backdoor attempt to legalize blatant discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis praised the court’s decision and attributed it to the work of local activists along with opposition from companies within the tourism industry, on which Bermuda’s economy relies.

“Today the Bermuda Supreme Court affirmed what we already know — that love can never be rolled back and that all loving and committed couples deserve the protections that only marriage affords,” Ellis said in a statement.

“The Bermuda Supreme Court has righted the injustice that occurred when Bermudian lawmakers made the islands the first national territory in the world to repeal marriage equality,” Ty Cobb, the director of the Human Rights Campaign’s global department, said in a statement. “We congratulate the plaintiffs in this case on their historic victory ensuring that once again, Love Wins!”

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