Gay couples will once again be able to marry in Bermuda, after the Supreme Court this morning upheld a constitutional challenge against the Domestic Partnership Act.
Chief Justice Ian Kawaley, delivering his judgment before a packed courtroom, said the sections of the Act which revoked the right to same-sex marriage were invalid because they were inconsistent with provisions in the Constitution which give the right to freedom of conscience and creed.
It came after a court battle fought by gay Bermudians Rod Ferguson and Maryellen Jackson and the charity OutBermuda.
The DPA was passed by Parliament in December in order to reverse a Supreme Court ruling from May last year, in the case of Winston Godwin and Greg DeRoche against the Registrar-General, which enabled gay couples to tie the knot here.
The new legislation came into force on Friday, revoking the right of gay couples to marry and offering them — and heterosexual couples — the option of a legally-recognised civil union.
Mr Justice Kawaley’s ruling will mean gay couples can wed once more and domestic partnerships will also be available.
The DPA put Bermuda in the unique position of being the only country in the world to have allowed gay marriage and then revoked that right.
It prompted a firestorm of criticism here and abroad, leading to Mr Ferguson’s decision to launch his crowdsourced civil case against the Attorney-General on the grounds that his constitutional rights had been breached.
Ms Jackson and OutBermuda, with partial funding from Carnival Cruise Line, later filed a separate lawsuit and asked for it to be joined with Mr Ferguson’s case.
The Government has an automatic right to appeal the ruling.
The Chief Justice agreed to an application by Solicitor-General Melvyn Douglas to stay the effect of the judgment for six weeks until it decides whether to appeal, meaning the current ban on same-sex marriage will remain in place.
“It seems to me obvious that the Government should be given the opportunity to consider the judgment and, if they see fit, appeal it,” said Mr Justice Kawaley, acknowledging that the stay was likely to disappoint the plaintiffs.
Mr Ferguson’s lawyer Mark Pettingill objected, stating that the stay was a “slap in the face” to the gay community.
He asked: “How long, in the interests of justice, do they want to drag this out?”
Today’s hearing, which lasted nearly one hour, ended with a loud round of applause from the public gallery.