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Bermuda same-sex marriage ban challenge to be heard in May

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

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HAMILTON, Bermuda (CMC) — The Bermuda government's decision to ban same-sex marriages in this British Overseas Territory nine months after the Supreme Court gave them the green light is to be tested in three months' time.

A trial date has been set for a Supreme Court challenge against a new law aimed at replacing same-sex marriage, it was announced on Tuesday.

Chief Justice Ian Kawaley will hear the civil case brought by gay Bermudian Rod Ferguson, a 38-year-old singer and stand-up comedian who lives in the United States, against Attorney-General Kathy Simmons on May 21 and 22.

Ferguson's lawsuit, filed on February 15, claims that the new Domestic Partnership Act — piloted through the House of Assembly last year by Home Affairs Minister Walton Brown — is unconstitutional and will subject gay people to “inhumane or degrading treatment” by denying them the right to wed.

He is seeking to have the legislation declared void by the court, on the basis that it is inconsistent with his fundamental rights as set out in the Bermuda constitution.

The Domestic Partnership Act was passed in parliament in December — first by the House and then the Senate — and given royal assent by Governor John Rankin on February 7, but has yet to come into effect.

The Ministry of Home Affairs said last week it would come into operation “on such day as the minister may appoint by notice published in the Official Gazette”.

The legislation reverses last May's Supreme Court decision by Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons enabled gay people to wed here — a judgment won after Bermudian Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche, his Canadian partner, litigated against the Registrar-General for refusing to post their wedding banns.

Parliament's decision to remove the right of gay people to marry has been met with criticism from around the world, including from British Prime Minister Theresa May, who said she was “seriously disappointed”.

Opposition British Labour Party MP Chris Bryant, a former Overseas Territories Minister who forced a debate on the bill in the House of Commons in London last month, said the law reversal would make Britain a “laughing stock in the human rights field”.

Bermuda is the first country in the world to ban same-sex marriage after giving it the go-ahead.

Despite their landmark victory, Godwin and DeRoche chose to marry in Canada, but at least 10 gay couples have wed here with four more tying the knot aboard Bermuda-registered cruise ships.

The Netherlands was the first country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001.

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