After Bermuda became the first country to ban marriage equality after legalizing it, the back-and-forth over LGBTQ rights may finally be over.
On Friday, the Bermuda Court of Appeal upheld a May 2017 ruling from Judge Charles-Etta Simmons that laws preventing LGBTQ couples from marrying are in violation of the Human Rights Act. Just seven months later, the government neutered that historic verdict by passing the Domestic Partnership Act—replacing same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships.
Although government leaders argued the two categories were of equal legal status, LGBTQ advocates disagreed. Maryellen Jackson and Roderick Ferguson filed a court appeal to overturn the December 2017 legislation.
After former Chief Justice of the Bermuda Supreme Court Ian Kawaley initially sided in favor of the plaintiffs in June of this year, the appeals court today “dismissed the government’s claim that [he] erred in a ruling that reopened the door for same-sex marriage,” as the Royal Gazette reports.
The local newspaper claimed the court “erupted with cheers” as the decision was announced.
“They broke into cheers again half an hour later when the court refused to stay the effect of its judgment, meaning same-sex marriage is now legal in Bermuda,” the Gazette continued.
Unfortunately, the favorable decision—which marks what is arguably the third time marriage equality has been legalized in two years—is not quite the end of the line. The government has three weeks to file yet another appeal, this time with the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.
Should the court of final appeals decide to take up the case, the commonwealth advisory body could issue a temporary stay on the lower court ruling.
That would prevent couples from marrying until the council weighs in.
As Jackson and Ferguson await further news, the plaintiffs issued a joint statement to the public on Friday—in which they claimed LGBTQ Bermudans would remain “strong and proud” no matter the obstacles that lay ahead.
“Speaking for ourselves and on behalf of gay and lesbian Bermudians, we are grateful for the court’s decision, and its recognition of the significance of marriage in supporting and protecting our families,” they said in a press release. “Equality under the law is every Bermudan’s birthright.”
“When our voices join together, we will be heard, and we will continue to make progress,” Jackson and Ferguson added.
Zakiya Johnson Lord, spokeswoman for the LGBTQ organization OutBermuda, credited the pair for taking a “brave public stand to fight for the right to marry [on behalf of all] all gay and lesbian Bermudans.”
“Today’s ruling makes history for Bermuda and our nation’s dedication to equality and fairness for all citizens, including our LGBTQ families,” Lord claimed in a statement originally published by the Gazette. “We believe there is nothing more fundamental than the right to marry the one we love.”
Despite another small step toward progress, Bermuda remains deeply divided over LGBTQ rights. A 2016 poll showed that just 31 percent of its 65,000 residents support the freedom to marry.