Metro Weekly

Bermuda authorities appeal Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality

Overturned "domestic partnership" law effectively discriminated against same-sex couples

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

Bermuda’s ruling party is seeking to reverse a recent Supreme Court decision that overturned a law banning same-sex marriages.

An appeals court will bear oral arguments in the government’s case from Nov. 7-9, reports The Royal Gazette.

Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, confirmed that the government will argue that a June 2018 decision finding parts of the country’s “domestic partnership” law to be unconstitutional was wrongly decided.

The law was originally proposed in response to a Supreme Court ruling in May 2017 finding that Bermuda’s Registrar General could not reject a gay couple’s application to marry.

In February 2018, members of Parliament, under pressure from social conservatives, passed a bill that would essentially block same-sex couples from marrying.

Under that bill, both same-sex and opposite-sex couples would be able to obtain domestic partnerships, but the word “marriage” would be exclusively reserved for heterosexual couples — whether or not they married in a religious ceremony.

But Chief Justice Ian Kawaley ruled in June that such a law was discriminatory and violated the constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of conscience and outlaws discrimination based on creed.

“We believe we have done our part to encourage the Government to continue to do what the people have expressed they would like in relation to the legislation that was passed,” Melvyn Bassett, the chairman of the conservative Preserve Marriage coalition, told The Royal Gazette. “We anticipate that the Court of Appeal will honor the Government’s appeal.”

Tony Brannon, an LGBTQ activist who launched a petition in 2015 calling for the legalization of same-sex marriage, criticized the government for appealing the Supreme Court’s decision.

“They are going to lose again — at least that’s what I think is going to happen,” he said. “There are people having to put their hands in their pocket to fight for justice and now it is going to come out of the taxpayers’ fund.

“The politicians of Bermuda seem hellbent in denying equality for a minority,” added Brannon. “The [two] cases involving same sex marriage have been won in the Bermuda Supreme Court. To legislate inequality is indeed a disgrace and a complete affront for human rights.”

OUTBermuda, which served as a co-litigant in the original lawsuit challenging the prohibition on same-sex marriage, has promised it will join the original plaintiffs, Roderick Ferguson, a gay man, and Maryellen Jackson, a lesbian, as they argue for the court to reject the government’s appeal.

“We will never surrender equality for all Bermudians, and especially the LGBTQ families and couples who deserve it,” the organization said after the government announced its intention to challenge Kawaley’s decision.

Added Ferguson: “We regret this ill-advised and costly decision to appeal the Supreme Court’s finding, and we will summon our voices and resources again as a united community to prevail.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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