Bermuda Supreme Court Just Declared an Anti-Gay Marriage Law Unconstitutional

The Domestic Partnership Act was signed into law this past year, which revoked same-sex marriage

Updated 06/06/18

Michela Ravasio / Stocksy United

Although a Supreme Court ruling in the United States this past week didn't exactly pan out in favor of the LGBTQ community, Bermuda is taking a step in the right direction.

Today, the Bermuda Supreme Court came to a consensus to revoke components of the Domestic Partnership Act, which would prohibit same-sex marriage on the island. According to the Government of Bermuda official website, this bill was passed February 7, and officially put into effect June 1. Under the new law, same-sex partners would not be allowed to legally marry after May 31, but gay couples in domestic partnerships could receive the same statutory benefits (property rights, pensions, health insurance, etc.) as married heterosexual couples. Non-religious civil ceremonies would be allowed, as long as gay couples keep in line with the act.

However, according to the Royal Gazette, Chief Justice Ian Kawaley "declared the sections of [the Domestic Partnership Act] which revoked marriage equality as invalid" this afternoon. In his judgment, he also added that said sections contradicted the constitutional rights to "freedom of conscience and creed." Justice Kawaley agreed to a six-week stay before the ruling goes into effect, in case the government decides to appeal.

Two gay Bermuda citizens, Rod Ferguson and Maryellen Jackson, and a charity that advocates for LGBTQ rights known as OutBermuda, originally fueled the decision after issuing a Supreme Court summons to revoke components of the Domestic Partnership Act.

"We all came to the court with one purpose," Ferguson and Jackson said in a joint statement. "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."

Justice Kawaley concurred, understanding that the plaintiffs in this legal battle had no intention of forcing their beliefs on any anti-gay marriage supporters. Rather, they solely wanted equal representation.

"They merely seek to enforce the rights of those who share their beliefs to freely manifest them in practice," he said. "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. 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 belief."

It's unclear how the government will rule in this case, especially since same-sex marriage in Bermuda has had a bit of a rough history. It wasn't legalized until May 2017, when Bermuda's Supreme Court decided that limiting marriage to a man and a woman was discriminatory. However, the fact that the highest court has ruled in favor of gay marriage, not once, but twice within the time span of a year will hopefully be a good sign for the LGBTQ community.

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