HAMILTON, Bermuda (Reuters) - Bermuda’s top court ruled on Friday that legislation banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, rejecting a government bid to overturn an earlier court ruling that reached the same conclusion.
“In the judgment about to be handed down, we dismissed the appeal of the attorney general,” Sir Scott Baker, president of the Bermuda Court of Appeal, told the crowded courtroom, sparking whoops of applause from gay rights supporters.
Baker was referring to an appeal lodged by the government against a June ruling by Bermuda’s Supreme Court that struck down the gay marriage ban passed by Bermudian lawmakers last year. The ban was later approved by the British governor.
The ruling may still be brought before the judicial committee of the Privy Council in London - the final court of appeal for British overseas territories like Bermuda.
Appeals to the Privy Council are rare, with only one or two cases from Bermuda brought each year, according to court records seen by Reuters.
In the meantime, same-sex marriages will be allowed to resume after a pause of several months that followed the enactment of Bermuda’s Domestic Partnership Act, which reversed gay marriage rights in favor of domestic partnerships.
“Love won again, and today love was reaffirmed,” Winston Godwin, a gay Bermudian who began the legal battle for equal marriage rights in Bermuda two years ago, told Reuters in the courtroom. “My marriage doesn’t impact anyone else’s.”
The government, which has 21 days to appeal the ruling, has yet to make a decision on the matter.
“In considering whether to appeal this case, we must weigh the significant implications for the expectation of Bermudians that laws passed by their elected representatives and that reflect their democratically expressed views will be upheld,” Home Affairs Minister Walter Roban said in a statement.
Lawyers challenging the ban argued that the government’s legislation was motivated by an attempt to appease a powerful religious lobby on the small Atlantic island of 60,000 people.
They also argued that prohibiting gay marriage violated Bermuda’s 1968 constitution, which protects freedom of conscience.
Rod Attride-Stirling, one of the lawyers, said the ruling would set a “massive precedent” for other jurisdictions where gay marriage is not yet legal, such as Northern Ireland.
“This case is revolutionary because every country that has a freedom of conscience provision, which is most now, has a fully new avenue of approach,” he told reporters outside the courtroom.
Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Frances Kerry