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The battle lines are drawn in Bermuda as a gay couple mounts a fight in the law courts to tie the knot in the British Overseas Territory.
Bermudian Winston Godwin and Canadian Greg De Roche insist they have a right to happiness and the island’s legal system must rethink its treatment of same-sex couples.
Godwin and DeRoche are pressing the Supreme Court to order the island’s Registrar- General to post their banns of marriage – the public announcement of an impending marriage between two people – in accordance with the Marriage Act.
As the case got underway on Monday, Mark Pettingill, the attorney for the two male partners argued before the Supreme Court that the island’s Human Rights Act, protects his clients’ right to marry.
He was also adamant that Bermuda had a duty to honour the rights of every individual, saying it was “time to write the final chapter in the protection of the rights of gay people”.
Pettingill dismissed the idea that the Court should have to rule on people’s right to seek love and happiness.
“The applicants say that religious arguments bear no relevance on civil contractual marriage. This is a matter of statutory interpretation,” he argued.
In a referendum last June, Bermudians overwhelmingly rejected same-sex marriages and civil unions.
Describing the referendum on same-sex marriage and civil unions as “folly”, Pettingill said “it’s a minority rights issue”.
“It is time for the courts fully armed with the legal protection of the Human Rights Act to write the final chapter in the protection of the rights of gay people of secular orientation and all the rights that everyone enjoys, to be the same,” the attorney said.
However, Pettingill will have to get past outspoken Opposition Progressive Labour Party MP Wayne Furbert who is mounting a strong campaign against same-sex marriages.
Furbert is planning to return to the House in another five months with a revised amendment solidifying marriage as between a man and woman.
He originally tabled amendments to the Human Rights Act to limit marriage as between a man and a woman last year. They were approved by the House of Assembly, but later rejected by the Senate by a vote of six to five.