Bermuda Supreme Court strikes down law banning equal marriage

The flag of Bermuda flies in Hamilton

Bermuda’s Supreme Court has again struck down a law banning same-sex marriage.

Bermuda, which is a British Overseas Territory, has had a tumultuous journey on LGBT rights.

Gay weddings began in May 2017 after Bermuda’s highest court ruled in favour of an appeal from LGBT campaigners – only to be halted a year later when the government passed a ‘compromise’ domestic partnership bill that re-banned same-sex marriage while permitting a lower form of union for gay couples.

Today the issue went back to the Bermuda Supreme Court – which has once again ruled that it is unconstitutional to ban same-sex marriage.

Clauses in the Domestic Partnership Act that revoked same sex marriage were ruled unconstitutional on human rights grounds.

Gay couples will not be able to marry immediately, as the ruling has been stayed for six weeks while the government considers its next steps.

The verdict, issued by Chief Justice Ian Kawaley, comes after legal challenges from Bermudians out Rod Ferguson and Maryellen Jackson and LGBT group OUTBermuda. The challenges were part-funded by the cruise ship industry which has a massive role in the island’s economy.

Zakiya Johnson Lord and Adrian Hartnett-Beasley of OUTBermuda said: “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.

“Equality under the law is our birthright, and we begin by making every marriage equal.

“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.

“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.

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

A view of Hamilton Harbour in Bermuda (Drew Angerer/Getty)

OUTBermuda added: “We stood up for ourselves and called out discrimination. We have done good work here.

“This is a win for all the young LGBTQ kids that are out there that maybe haven’t even identified their sexuality.

“They are looking at us as the generation above them.

“We are showing up for them, even if we don’t know them. We are showing up for them with our voices, with our visibility and with our resources.”

The verdict raises questions for the UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who only in February assented to the passage of the Domestic Partnerships Act despite the UK’s power to block legislation deemed to contravene human rights laws.

The court has now ruled that the decision does indeed violate human rights laws.

A spokesperson for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office told PinkNews: “The UK is absolutely committed to promoting LGBT equality and we welcome the decision of the Supreme Court in Bermuda in favour of same sex marriage rights.

“Ministers will continue to encourage and engage with all of the Overseas Territories on these matters so they can drive their own lasting legislative change.”

The flag of Bermuda flies in the city of Hamilton, Bermuda (Drew Angerer/Getty)

At the time Johnson ducked questions from Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry and Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable.

Thornberry had told PinkNews that his decision to greenlight the law was “nothing short of a scandal” and called on him to “apologise for doing so.”

Same-sex weddings began in Bermuda in May 2017, after the Bermudian Supreme Court ruled that laws providing no recognition to same-sex couples violated their human rights.

However there was a strong push-back from evangelical campaigners on the island, and the under-pressure Bermudian government passed a bill imposing a new ban on same-sex marriage.

The replacement law did allow same-sex couples to enter civil partnerships for the first time.

However, the fresh gay marriage ban led to a strong backlash against Bermuda when it came into effect in May 2018, and also meant that the large number of internationally-operating cruise ships registered in the region for financial reasons could no longer offer onboard same-sex weddings.

The move led cruise giant Carnival, which operates 24 Bermuda-registered cruise ships under subsidiaries Cunard, Princess and P&O Cruises, to sink funding into LGBT rights groups in the region in a bid to restore marriage equality.

Carnival said the “active engagement” in its registered home port was important to the company, adding: “Carnival Corporation believes our employees, guests and the public at large deserve equal dignity and respect.”

It said: “As a company committed to equality, inclusion and diversity, we were disheartened by Bermuda’s reversal of [equal marriage].

“Our engagement includes providing OUTBermuda with financial, civic and public relations support, as well as involvement by our company.

“While we always abide by the laws of the countries we sail to and from, we believe travel and tourism brings people and cultures together in powerful ways. As a result, we believe it is important to stand by the LGBTQ community in Bermuda and its many allies to oppose any actions that restrict travel and tourism.”