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Bermuda faces fresh lawsuit over anti-gay marriage law

Nick Duffy February 16, 2018
The flag of Bermuda flies in Hamilton

HAMILTON, BERMUDA - NOVEMBER 8: The flag of Bermuda flies as houses dot the hillside across Hamilton Harbour, November 8, 2017 in Hamilton, Bermuda. In a series of leaks made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Paradise Papers shed light on the trillions of dollars that move through offshore tax havens. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Bermuda is facing a fresh lawsuit over a law that banned same-sex marriage.

The Overseas British Territory introduced same-sex marriage last year, after the court found that banning gay couples from marrying was a violation of their human rights.

Progress took a hit this month when lawmakers fought back with a new law that abolished same-sex marriage, instead opening a segregated form of civil unions to gay couples.

But the decision is itself now facing legal action – which could lead the issue back towards the courts.

Gay Bermudian man Rod Ferguson, 38, launched a legal challenge over the decision.

A view of Hamilton Harbour in Bermuda (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

He said: “I rejoiced when Bermuda finally established the right for same-sex couples to marry in 2017 and I had planned to exercise that right someday, but then it was taken away through the passage of the Domestic Partnerships Act.

“I strongly believe that this is a fundamental human rights issue, that everyone is entitled to the same protection of law which includes the service of a contractual marriage in Bermuda.

“When the rest of the right-thinking world has accepted the position that marriage should be available to same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike, it is very disappointing that my own country has effectively moved backwards.

“I am grateful for what so many others have done to contribute to Bermuda’s movement toward marriage equality, and I’m privileged to be in a position, with the support of family, friends, and the LGBT community, where I can now stand up and do my part.

“I have taken the decision to make this legal application to protect my rights along with the rights of so many of my fellow Bermudians.”

He is represented by Mark Pettingill of Chancery Legal law firm.

Mr Pettingill told The Royal Gazette: “The crux of it is that the protection of law that existed under the Human Rights Act as a result of the judgment in May has been removed.

“This man’s, and many other people’s, fundamental rights and protections under the law have been usurped.

“I strongly believe that this is a fundamental human rights issue, that everyone is entitled to the same protection of law which includes the service of a contractual marriage in Bermuda.

“When the rest of the right-thinking world has accepted the position that marriage should be available to same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike, it is very disappointing that my own country has effectively moved backwards.

“I am grateful for what so many others have done to contribute to Bermuda’s movement toward marriage equality, and I’m privileged to be in a position, with the support of family, friends, and the LGBT community, where I can now stand up and do my part.

“I have taken the decision to make this legal application to protect my rights along with the rights of so many of my fellow Bermudians.”

Although the UK technically has a veto over legislation that it deems to contradict human rights, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson gave Bermuda the green light to sign the anti-gay marriage law.

The decision has ignited fury aimed at Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who has previously claimed to champion global LGBT rights.

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry told PinkNews at the time: “This is an utterly disgraceful piece of legislation, which turns same-sex couples into second-class citizens, just a year after they won their equality through the courts. Following a year when Australia, Taiwan and Chile have joined the march towards marriage equality, this legislation is a giant step backwards.

“For that to happen anywhere in the world would be shameful, but for it to happen in a British Territory, with the legislation signed by a British Governor, and permitted by a British Foreign Secretary, is nothing short of a scandal. Boris Johnson must explain why he has let this happen, and at the very least, should apologise for doing so.”

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable told PinkNews: “Intervening in the laws of a British Overseas Territory is an exceptional step but, in this case, one the FCO must take given an unelected governor wants to send Bermuda back to the dark ages on LGBT rights.”

Lib Dem peer Baroness Barker told PinkNews: “Boris Johnson has let down LGBT citizens not just in Bermuda but across the whole Commonwealth. The U.K. should be helping the Commonwealth to achieve peace and prosperity, not recreating the worst of colonialism.”

Amid the fury, Mr Johnson failed to turn up to answer an urgent question about his decision on the issue on the floor of the Commons.

More: Anti-gay, Bermuda, homophobic, Law, LGBT

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