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HAMILTON – A 38-year-old gay Bermudian, who lives in the United States but hopes to marry one day in his home country, has launched a legal challenge against the Attorney-General for revoking his right to do so and subjecting him to “inhuman or degrading treatment”.
Lawyers for Rod Ferguson filed a lawsuit on Thursday afternoon with Bermuda’s Supreme Court, claiming that the island’s new Domestic Partnership Act was unconstitutional.
The act, which replaces same-sex marriage with civil unions, was approved by parliament in December and eventually given royal assent by Governor John Rankin on February 7.
It reversed a Supreme Court decision made by Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons last May that enabled gay people to wed here — a judgment won after gay couple Winston Godwin, a Bermudian, and his Canadian partner Greg DeRoche litigated against the Registrar-General for refusing to post their wedding banns.
Despite their landmark victory, Godwin and DeRoche chose to marry in Canada.
Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory, is the first country in the world to ban same-sex marriage after giving it the green light.
Ferguson is represented by lawyer Mark Pettingill, a former Attorney-General, who also represented Godwin and DeRoche.
In a statement, Ferguson said that, although single, he has “always considered myself to be the marrying kind”.
Although Bermuda’s referendum on same-sex relationships in 2016 failed to garner enough votes to achieve an official answer, Ferguson said he had nonetheless been left “heartbroken” by its majority negative result at the polls.
He added: “I rejoiced when Bermuda finally established the right for same-sex couples to marry in 2017 and I had planned to exercise that right some day, but then it was taken away through the passage of the Domestic Partnerships Act.”
Pettingill told the Royal Gazette newspaper: “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.”
The Gazette said the aim of the civil claim filed on behalf of Ferguson is to have the Domestic Partnership Act declared void by the court, on the basis that it is inconsistent with his fundamental rights as set out in the island’s constitution.
Those rights include the protection of law, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of association with other persons, creed, and certain property rights.
Home Affairs Minister Walton Brown, who tabled the legislation in the House of Assembly, has previously said the Domestic Partnership Act “was developed in such a way as to ensure that it fully complies with our constitution”.
Brown added: “Clearly anyone has the right to challenge anything they want, but it must be a challenge with merit.”
According to the Registry-General, ten gay couples tied the knot in Bermuda after last May’s Supreme Court ruling.
As of January 25, there had also been four same-sex weddings on board Bermudian-registered ships.
An article in Wednesday’s New York Times, one of numerous pieces published in the global media in response to the legislation, said two weddings previously approved by Bermuda onboard Princess Cruises ships would be allowed to proceed in March.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she was “seriously disappointed” by the decision to abolish same-sex marriage in Bermuda.
“That bill has been democratically passed by the parliament of Bermuda, and our relationship with the Overseas Territories is based on partnership and respect for their right to democratic self-government.”
Opposition British Labour Party MP Chris Bryant, a former Overseas Territories Minister who forced a debate on the bill in the House of Commons in London last month, said the law reversal would make Britain a “laughing stock in the human rights field”, May said.
Veteran Bermudian entertainer Tony Brannon said: “The cost to Bermuda is racking up in the millions (of dollars) in lost tourism cancellations. I know of some mega cancellations and this will hurt airlines, hotels, restaurants, taxi drivers, wedding planners, entertainers, tourism attractions and more.”
The Netherlands was the first country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001. (CMC)