Bermuda’s Chief Justice rules that same-sex couples be given back the right to marry
HAMILTON – First the court gave the green light for same-sex marriages in Bermuda, then Parliament overturned it, and this morning the island’s Chief Justice ruled that gay couples should get back the right to wed.
In a ruling handed down this morning, Chief Justice Ian Kawaley ruled that the Domestic Partnership Act (DPA) which rescinded marriage rights to same-sex couples was unconstitutional. He said the law was “inconsistent with provisions in the Constitution which give the right to freedom of conscience and creed”.
“Persons who passionately believe that same-sex marriages should not take place for religious or cultural reasons are entitled to have those beliefs respected and protected by law,” Justice Kawaley said.
“But, in return for the law protecting their own beliefs, they cannot require the law to deprive persons who believe in same-sex marriage of respect and legal protection for their opposing beliefs.”
However, the ruling will not take effect immediately. The Chief Justice agreed to an application by the Attorney-General for a six-week stay to allow the Government to decide whether to appeal.
His decision was handed down in a challenge, brought by gay Bermudians Rod Ferguson and Maryellen Jackson and the charity OUTBermuda, to the constitutional aspects of the law which was passed in December last year and took effect on June 1, revoking the right of gay couples to marry and offering them, as well as heterosexual couples, the option of a legally-recognized civil union..
The legislation had actually been passed to overturn a High Court decision that paved the way for gay marriage in the British Overseas Territory, in a case brought by Bermudian Winston Godwin and his Canadian partner Greg DeRoche.
Mark Pettingill, who represented Godwin and DeRoche in the previous challenge, as well as Ferguson in this latest challenge, was not pleased about the six-week stay but he told the Royal Gazette newspaper that was thrilled about the judgment.
“Allowing same-sex couples to marry doesn’t hurt anybody else. The judgment reflects that we can live in harmony and have significant differences of opinion. It demonstrates that we have an excellent judicial process,” he said.