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A London court has set a date to finally decide on same-sex marriage in Bermuda

A London court has set a date to finally decide on same-sex marriage in Bermuda

  • The decision could also prove a death knell for other country’s sodomy laws and same-sex marriage bans.
Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche.

The final fate of same-sex marriage in Bermuda will be decided by a court in London – which has now set a date for the hearing.

The Privy Council is the final court of appeal for multiple British Overseas Territories and former colonies. So the decision could set a precedent changing the law in far flung countries around the world.

The legal battle dates back to 2017 when a Bermudian court made same-sex marriage legal. However the country’s government tried to block marriage equality.

Now the Privy Council will make a final decision. It was due to hear the case this December but scheduling issues delayed that. The court has now said the case will go ahead on 3 and 4 February 2021.

Rod Attride-Stirling, represents the gay rights organisation OutBermuda and four other litigants in the case. He is ‘cautiously optimistic’ of victory.

Moreover he told Bermudan newspaper The Royal Gazette that ‘the change in Bermudian society is already complete’.

That’s because same-sex marriage has been able to continue in Bermuda while the court battle rages on.

Last year, the island witnessed four same-sex weddings – as well as two more same-sex unions on ships registered in Bermuda.

Legal battle for same-sex marriage in Bermuda

The Supreme Court of Bermuda made same-sex marriage legal in May 2017. It ruled in favor of Bermudian Winston Godwin and his Canadian fiancé, Greg DeRoche. They successfully argued that Bermuda breached their rights by refusing to allow them to wed.

In turn, others seized the opportunity to marry. But six months later the Bermuda Assembly banned further marriages.

Instead, the government passed Bermuda’s  Domestic Partnership Act in December 2017. That upheld existing same-sex marriages since the court decision. But it refused any other couples the right to marry, offering them civil unions instead.

Naturally campaigners including OutBermuda said that was unconstitutional. They were proved right when Chief Justice, Ian Kawaley, ruled in their favor in May 2018.

But the Bermudian government kept fighting the decision. And that’s how the case came to the Privy Council.

So the battle for the final say on same-sex marriage in Bermuda will be decided 5,550kms away at The Middlesex Guildhall on Parliament Square, London. The building also houses the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

‘If you can marry, you can have sex’

In March this year, Jamaican LGBT+ lawyer Maurice Tomlinson, told GSN the Privy Council’s ruling could have far-reaching effects.

He said: ‘The decision will be binding on the Bermudian government. But it will be incredibly persuasive for all the other British Overseas Territories.

‘In relation to the independent territories, it will also be persuasive, although it depends what each constitution says.’

Moreover, he believes it will be helpful in striking down some of the world’s most draconian ‘sodomy laws’ – including the one he has been fighting in Jamaica.

He said: ‘This decision will also add weight to the cases in St Vincent, Dominica and Barbados and Jamaica.

‘If LGBT people are entitled to marry, they are certainly entitled to have sex.’

The surprising reach of the Privy Council

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the final court of appeal for these far-flung nations and territories:

Commonwealth Realm

Antigua and Barbuda
The Bahamas
Grenada
Jamaica
St Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
St Vincent and the Grenadines
Tuvalu

Commonwealth Republic

Mauritius
Trinidad and Tobago
Kiribati

British Overseas Territories

British Antarctic Territory
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
British Indian Ocean Territory
Pitcairn Islands
Falkland Islands
Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
Anguilla
British Virgin Islands
Cayman Islands
Montserrat
Gibraltar
Bermuda
Turks and Caicos Islands

Crown Dependencies

Guernsey (including Alderney and Sark)
Jersey
Isle of Man

British Overseas Base Areas

Akrotiri and Dhekelia