In a stunning development, after becoming the first nation in the world to reverse marriage equality, Bermuda’s Supreme Court has ordered it to be reinstated.
The court first legalised same-sex marriage in May last year, but in February, the government enacted a controversial law replacing same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships.
The Domestic Partnership Act offered same-sex couples similar rights to those enjoyed by heterosexual married couples, but not full marriage equality.
The government said at the time that this would “strike a fair balance between two currently irreconcilable groups”; those in support of same-sex marriage and those with religious objections.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court found that this “compromise” was not justifiable and ruled that the sections of the new law blocking same-sex couples from marrying are unconstitutional.
“Parliament cannot impose the religious preferences of any one group on the society as a whole,” said Chief Justice Ian Kawaley.
“Persons who passionately believe that same-sex marriages should not take place for religious or cultural reasons are entitled to have those beliefs respected and protected by law.
“But, in return for the law protecting their own beliefs, they cannot require the law to deprive persons who believe in same-sex marriage of respect and legal protection for their opposing beliefs.”
The government has six weeks to appeal the ruling before it goes into effect, but the decision was already seen as a major victory for the LGBTQ community.
“Love wins again! Our hearts and hopes are full, thanks to this historic decision by our Supreme Court and its recognition that all Bermuda families matter,” said OUTBermuda in a statement. “Equality under the law is our birthright, and we begin by making every marriage equal.”
Roderick Ferguson and Maryellen Jackson, who brought joint lawsuits against the Domestic Partnership Act, also welcomed the ruling in their favour.
“We all came to the court with one purpose. That was to overturn the unfair provisions of the Domestic Partnership Act that tried to take away the rights of same-sex couples to marry,” they said. “Revoking same-sex marriage is not merely unjust, but regressive and unconstitutional. We continue to support domestic partnership rights for all Bermudians to choose, but not at the expense of denying marriage to some.”
Home Affairs Minister Walton Brown said in a statement that the government plans to appeal the Supreme Court’s ruling, “subject to any legal advice that we receive”.
Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory; it is internally self-governing but the UK is responsible for defence and foreign relations.