May 29, 2019
(CMR) HAMILTON, Bermuda (CMC) — The Government of Bermuda has been granted permission to take its legal bid to outlaw same-sex marriage in this British Oversees Territory, to the UK based Privy Council.
According to officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs this is the latest twist in a two-year 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 here.
“The government has received leave to appeal. The Government’s position concerning the appeal has not changed,” said a spokeswoman from the ministry in an interview with the Royal Gazette newspaper on Wednesday.
The Gazette quoted the LGBTQ charity OutBermuda, one of the respondents in the appeal, saying it expected the government to lose and for the final bill for Bermuda’s taxpayers to be about US$3 million.
But the Home Affairs spokeswoman said the ministry “cannot and will not speculate” on the cost of taking the case to the Privy Council, Bermuda’s highest court of appeal.
Bermuda’s Supreme Court ruled in May 2017 that gay couples could marry here, but six months later the government 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 ruled on their case in June last year, finding that the parts of the legislation that restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples were against the Bermuda constitution.
He agreed to a request from the government for his decision to be “stayed” pending an appeal, meaning gay couples could no longer wed.
The Court of Appeal upheld Justice Kawaley’s ruling in November and allowed same-sex marriages to take place again.
“To be perfectly clear, today in Bermuda, same-sex couples are fully permitted to secure marriage licences and have their marriages recognised.
“This right was declared by the Bermuda Supreme Court in 2017 and upheld by two subsequent court decisions. The ongoing legal battle and final hearing in the Privy Council, however, is necessary to make this basic human right permanent and lasting for all Bermuda citizens,” said OutBermuda.
“Human rights advocates and leaders across the British Commonwealth of nations are watching these developments closely. Some experts believe these decisions will set favourable legal precedent on the marriage rights for same-sex couples in many other jurisdictions.”
OutBermuda told the Gazette that Lord David Pannick QC – “a pre-eminent human rights and constitutional advocate in the United Kingdom, with extensive global experience” — would represent the charity and Ferguson at the Privy Council.
“The government of Bermuda this week received their consent from the Court of Appeal in Bermuda to submit their formal notice of appeal to the Privy Council; that action will set into motion the rest of the steps and processes and the timing of the hearing in London,” said the charity in its statement.
Between May 2017 and June 2018, 20 same-sex couples tied the knot. There have been two more same-sex marriages since the Court of Appeal’s judgment.
Three couples have entered into domestic partnerships since June 1 last year, with one more union pending.