‘Love Wins’: Bermuda Overturns Its Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

Marriage equality is legal in Bermuda—again.

Same-sex unions are back on in the island nation after the Bermuda Supreme Court struck down provisions in the Domestic Partnership Act 2017 banning LGBTQ couples from tying the knot. In February 2018, Gov. John Rankin signed the legislation, which overturned a ruling from the high court that had paved the way for marriage just nine months earlier.

Instead the Domestic Partnership Act forced same-sex couples who wished to wed to instead apply for “civil unions,” which government officials claimed would confer the same rights as marriage. That rule went into effect June 1, just days before the Supreme Court was set to weigh in on its constitutionality.

But Chief Justice Ian Kawaley claimed on Wednesday the legislation defies the “right to freedom of conscience and creed” outlined in the Bermuda Constitution.

That decision is set to go into effect immediately, making the conservative island nation of just 65,000 people both the first country to overturn its legalization of marriage equality and also to re-legalize same-sex unions after repealing them.

Plaintiffs Roderick Ferguson and Maryellen Jackson, who filed separate lawsuits to overturn the ban, celebrated the victory in a joint statement.

“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,” Ferguson and Jackson said after the ruling was announced.

“Revoking same-sex marriage is not merely unjust, but regressive and unconstitutional,” they continued. “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.”

Ferguson and Jackson were joined in their lawsuits by the local advocacy group OUTBermuda, as well as Carnival Cruise Line. While Ferguson crowdsourced his suit, Jackson’s was partially bankrolled by the travel brand—as many LGBTQ travelers vowed to boycott Bermuda in protest of the ruling.

Roger Frizzell, the ‎senior vice president and chief communications officer, filed an affidavit in support of the plaintiffs—who chose to join their cases together.

OUTBermuda said the positive outcome was a sign that “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,” claimed Adrian Hartnett-Beasley and Zakiya Johnson Lord of OUTBermuda in a press release. “Equality under the law is our birthright, and we begin by making every marriage equal.”

LGBTQ advocates in the United States also cheered the victory following a tumultuous year for the island’s queer and trans community.

“Today the Bermuda Supreme Court affirmed what we already know—that love can never be rolled back and that all loving and committed couples deserve the protections that only marriage affords,” claimed GLAAD CEO and President Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement.

“The hard work of local activists alongside strong action from cruise lines and companies that do business in Bermuda resulted in this tremendous victory over discrimination,” Ellis continued.

“The Bermuda Supreme Court has righted the injustice that occurred when Bermudian lawmakers made the islands the first national territory in the world to repeal marriage equality,” said Human Rights Campaign Global Department Director Ty Cobb in a statement. “We congratulate the plaintiffs in this case on their historic victory.”

Lawmakers in the Parliament of Bermuda have not stated whether they plan to fight to overturn marriage equality once more.

A 2016 poll conducted by the Bermuda newspaper The Royal Gazette found that a majority of residents (49 percent) in the British Overseas Territory opposed same-sex marriage, while just 41 percent were in favor of the freedom to marry for all couples.

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