HAMILTON, Bermuda, May 06 2017 – Two gay men have been celebrating following a landmark ruling handed down on Friday that paves the way for same-sex marriage here – less than a year after voters in this British Overseas Territory overwhelmingly rejected such unions in a referendum.
Winston Godwin, a Bermudian, and his Canadian partner, Greg DeRoche, took their fight for equal rights to the Supreme Court after the Registrar-General rejected their application to marry on the island, arguing that the Human Rights Act took primacy in Bermuda and protected their right to wed.
“On the facts, the applicants were discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation when the Registrar refused to process their notice of intended marriage, said Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons.
“The applicants are entitled to an order of mandamus compelling the Registrar to act in accordance with the requirements of the Marriage Act and a declaration that same-sex couples are entitled to be married under the Marriage Act,” the judgment stated.
Reacting to Friday’s ruling, Godwin described the ruling as a big step in the right direction and told reporters that he and DeRoche would be resubmitting their application to marry to the Registrar-General “within days”.
“It has been a long time coming,” he said. “This ruling, although it was in our favour … there is still so much more to do in Bermuda.The ruling today is more than me and pieces of paper; it’s more than any of that, it is what it means for Bermuda moving forward,” he said
“Now we can begin to fix some of these issues. People are going to have their opinions about this and that is okay. I am not here to change people’s opinions or how they think.I just want them to respect me and my relationship and my marriage that will happen here. This is a big step in the right direction and I cannot thank my legal team and my supporters enough.
“Hopefully, this brings forward hope and courage for those who were or are afraid to speak up or come out. This is a moment we are proud of and will never forget,” he added.
But the news was greeted with dismay by Preserve Marriage, a group favouring traditional marriage between a man and woman, saying the ruling had worsened the divide in Bermuda.
“Today, a single judge, Justice Charles-Etta Simmons, of the Supreme Court of Bermuda, has decided to redefine the institution of marriage.By imposing this judgment, the court has ruled against many in the community of Bermuda.”
But the Rainbow Alliance (RA) declared Friday’s landmark gay marriage ruling a victory for all same-gender-loving people in Bermuda.
Saluting Godwin and DeRoche for their courage in taking on the Bermuda government at the risk of being ostracised by the community, the RA issued a statement saying “love always wins”.
Godwin and DeRoche, represented by lawyer Mark Pettingill, had sought an order from the Supreme Court to compel the Registrar to post their marriage banns in accordance with the Marriage Act. They also want a declaration that same-sex couples are entitled to be married under that law.
When the civil case was heard over three days in January and February, Pettingill, now an independent MP, after resigning from the ruling One Bermuda Alliance, urged the court to write the final chapter in the protection of gay rights in Bermuda.
He said the couple’s case encapsulated “the right to happiness, the right of all people to seek love and happiness”.
“The applicants say that religious arguments bear no relevance on civil contractual marriage. This is a matter of statutory interpretation.It is time for the courts fully armed with the legal protection of the Human Rights Act to write the final chapter in the protection of the rights of gay people of secular orientation and all the rights that everyone enjoys to be the same,” the group said.
But the Government’s lawyer, Deputy Solicitor-General Shakira Dill-Francois, told the court that the Registrar-General could not post marriage banns for gay couples because such unions are null and void under Bermuda’s existing laws
In last June’s referendum, which drew a less than 50 percent turnout, 14,192 people opposed same-sex marriage and 13,003 voted against same-sex civil unions.
A total of 6,514 said yes to same-sex marriage and 7,626 backed same-sex civil unions.
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