Privy Council to hear Bermuda’s appeal against same-sex marriage in December

The Bermuda government’s appeal against same-sex marriage in this British Overseas Territory is to be held by the Privy Council in London later in the year.

According to gay rights group – OutBermuda – the case will go before the islands’ highest court of appeal on December 7 and 8.

This is the latest twist in a roller-coaster saga that at one stage, saw Bermuda become the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage and then take away the right, but a series of court decisions means that gay couples can currently get married there.

OutBermuda has said it expects the government to lose and for the final bill for Bermuda’s taxpayers to be about US$3 million.

“It’s time for all of us to have certainty, protection and equal dignity that marriage rights will ensure.”

In May 2017, Bermuda’s Supreme Court ruled that gay couples could marry here, but six months later the Progressive Labour Party government, which ousted the One Bermuda Alliance in the July general election that year,  passed the Domestic Partnership Act, outlawing same-sex weddings.

A challenge was brought against the act by Bermudian Rod Ferguson, with OutBermuda joining the legal action.

Former Chief Justice Ian Kawaley, ruling on their case in 2018, found that the parts of the legislation that restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples were against the Bermuda constitution.

The Court of Appeal later upheld Mr Justice Kawaley’s ruling and allowed same-sex marriages to take place again.

Privy council decision could set a precedent

Legal sources say the Privy Council’s decision could also set a precedent for same-sex marriage across the UK’s Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, as well as a host of former territories.

OutBermuda said the top court’s decision would likely be made public in the first quarter of 2021.

Adrian Hartnett-Beasley, director of OutBermuda, said the group had “long known that our pursuit of marriage equality would be a marathon, not a sprint”.

He said the Privy Council hearing marked the group’s “final push to preserve our equal rights under the law for all Bermudians and all families”.

Hartnett-Beasley added: “We deserve no less.”

Zakiya Lord, another director of the group, said: “Since our first court victory and despite every obstacle put in our path, Bermuda’s loving same-sex couples have celebrated their vows under Bermuda law.

“It’s time for all of us to have certainty, protection and equal dignity that marriage rights will ensure.”

The original Supreme Court decision in 2017 came in a judgment by Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons after Bermudian Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche, his Canadian partner, litigated against the Registrar-General for refusing to post their wedding banns.

Despite their landmark victory, Godwin and DeRoche chose to marry in Canada.

Bermudian lawyer Julia Saltus and her Ghanaian-American partner Judith Aidoo were the first gay couple to wed here.