June 6, 2018 at 10:25 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Bermuda marriage repeal law declared unconstitutional

Bermuda, gay news, Washington Blade

Bermuda Supreme Court Chief Justice Ian R. C. Kawaley on June 6, 2018, ruled a law that rescinded marriage rights for same-sex couples in the British island territory is unconstitutional. (Photo by Mike Oropeza; via Wikimedia Commons)

Bermuda Supreme Court Chief Justice Ian R. C. Kawaley on Wednesday ruled a law that rescinded marriage rights for same-sex couples in the British island territory is unconstitutional.

Kawaley issued his ruling five days after the Domestic Partnership Act took effect.

Governor John Rankin in February signed the Domestic Partnership Act despite strong opposition from LGBTI rights activists in Bermuda and their supporters around the world. Rod Ferguson and Maryellen Jackson and OutBermuda, an LGBTI advocacy group, challenged the law.

“Revoking same-sex marriage is not merely unjust, but regressive and unconstitutional,” said Ferguson and Jackson in a statement that OutBermuda released after Kawaley announced his ruling. “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.”

Linda Mienzer, a long-time LGBTI activist in Bermuda, married her wife before the law took effect. Mienzer on Wednesday celebrated the ruling, saying in a Facebook Live video that “love wins again.”

“Everybody deserves the right to love and be happy,” said Mienzer. “It’s not unreasonable to ask for love and happiness.”

Gays and lesbians had been able to marry in Bermuda since Supreme Court Justice Charles-Etta Simmons ruled in favor of the issue in May 2017.

Bermuda is the first jurisdiction in the world outside the U.S. to formally rescind marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Mienzer and other LGBTI activists rebuked calls to boycott Bermuda’s tourism industry over the Domestic Partnership Act after Rankin signed it.

“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 Director Ty Cobb in a statement. “We congratulate the plaintiffs in this case on their historic victory ensuring that once again, love wins.”

Peter Tatchell, a prominent British LGBT rights activist who is director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, in a statement said the Supreme Court “was right to rule that the repeal of same-sex marriage by the country’s parliament was unconstitutional.”

Kawaley issued his ruling less than six months after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a landmark decision that recognizes same-sex marriage and transgender rights in the Western Hemisphere.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling is not legally binding in Bermuda because it is not a signatory of the American Convention on Human Rights that it enforces. Tatchell nevertheless said Kawaley’s ruling will resonate throughout the region.

“This ruling will encourage and empower legal challenges to criminalization and marriage inequality across the Caribbean, many of which are bound to succeed,” said Tatchell. “It is indicative of the unstoppable global trend towards LGBT+ equal human rights.”

Kawaley agreed to Attorney General Kathy Lynn Simmons’ request to delay the implementation of his ruling for six weeks in order to allow the government to decide whether it will file an appeal. It is not immediately clear whether Rankin will challenge it.

“It’s not unreasonable to ask for love and happiness,” said Mienzer. “What’s unfortunate is that we in the LGBT community have to keep putting our money where our mouths are, putting ourselves out there on the line, putting our lives out there on the line to go through the courts to get justice.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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