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Bermuda Appeals Court Ruling After Legalizing Marriage Equality For Second Time in a Year

The fight for marriage equality in Bermuda isn’t over yet.

Just days after the Bermuda Supreme Court legalized same-sex unions for the second time in a year, the island nation’s government announced it will seek an appeal to the decision. According to the Jamaica Observer, officials filed a stay against Justice Ian Kawaley’s Wednesday ruling.

Kawaley claimed federal legislation banning marriage equality violated the “right to freedom of conscience and creed” outlined in the Bermuda Constitution.

The 2017 Domestic Partnership Bill, which was signed into law this February, prohibited same-sex marriages after the Supreme Court initially legalized them just months earlier. That decision made Bermuda the first country to ever revoke the freedom to marry after allowing LGBTQ couples to wed.

The bill took effect on June 1, just days before Kawaley’s verdict was handed down.

Home Affairs Minister Walton Brown told the Observer he is “pleased” the Supreme Court will temporarily halt the implementation of this week’s ruling while the nation’s highest bench has the chance to weigh the appeal.

Plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case claimed they are not concerned about the appeal. Maryellen Jackson, who joined stand-up comedian Rod Ferguson in challenging the Domestic Partnership Act, said that she felt Kawaley’s ruling already demonstrated that justice is on the side of LGBTQ equality.

“I’m not nervous about the appeals process,” she said in comments to the Observer. “I feel the judgment has been made, and the judgment is based on the facts, so I see no reason to be nervous about that.”

Mark Pettingill, who represented Ferguson in his case,” claimed that he was “ticked off” by the delay, though.

“It should be over,” Pettingill told reporters this week. “If common sense prevails, it should be. Allowing same-sex couples to marry doesn’t hurt anybody else. The judgment reflects that we can live in harmony and have significant differences of opinion. It demonstrates that we have an excellent judicial process.”

Although Ferguson and Jackson initially filed their legal challenges to the Domestic Partnership Act separately, they would later join together.

The motion to stay will be honored for six weeks while the Supreme Court weighs the government’s challenge to marriage equality. But no matter the outcome of the appeal, religious conservatives in Bermuda signaled in a statement that they would continue to fight to overturn legal recognition for LGBTQ couples.

Preserve Marriage and Family, the right-wing advocacy group leading the charge against same-sex marriage, said it has been “busily engaged in developing plans to support marriages and family life in Bermuda.”

“It is astonishing to see that the Chief Justice has made a decision in contradiction to Bermuda’s democratic process,” Preserve Marriage and Family claimed in a press release. “Two-thirds of the voting population and both Houses of Parliament decided against same-sex marriage.”

The right-wing group further pointed to statements from the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice, which “reiterated that same-sex marriage is not a human right, nor is it mandated by member states.” Conservatives concluded that Kawaley’s ruling “usurps the legislative authority of the Government, the democratic process, and goes beyond the mandate of the European Courts.”

“Again, we support the Government in its plan to challenge yesterday’s ruling and will await the decision of an appeal to the Higher Courts,” the organization said.

Bermuda, which boasts a population of just 50,000 people, is classified as a British Overseas Territory. Although the island remains under the larger jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, it is self-governing—with an independent legislature that sets its own national laws.

Nevertheless, British Prime Minister Theresa May commented that she was “seriously disappointed” in Bermuda’s earlier decision to revoke same-sex marriage.


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.