This year, Bermuda became the first country in the world to undo marriage equality for same-sex couples and that repeal took effect June 1. It lasted less than a week, however, before the country’s Supreme Court ruled against the repeal, upholding the right of same-sex couples’ marriages to be legally recognized.
Wednesday’s ruling is actually the third time the Supreme Court of Bermuda has recognized same-sex couples. Back in 2015, it granted employment and benefits protections to same-sex binational partners that all binational spouses enjoy in the island country. Then last year, it ruled in favor of full marriage equality, concluding that the Bermuda Human Rights Act forbids treating people differently on the basis of sexual orientation.
But lawmakers countered by passing a law in December that mandated that same-sex couples could only have domestic partnerships, reserving marriage for different-sex couples. Facing no objections from the British Crown, Gov. John Rankin gave his assent to the legislation in February. That law, which took effect just last Friday, made Bermuda the first country in the world to ever reverse marriage equality.
Activists were quick to counter the new law, however, filing suit almost immediately. The Carnival cruise line even joined the suit challenging the ban. Two of its subsidiary cruises are registered in Bermuda, and the law thus prohibited same-sex marriages from being conducted on those ships, regardless of where they were in the world. “We believe it is important to stand by the LGBTQ community in Bermuda and its many allies to oppose any actions that restrict travel and tourism,” the company said in a statement at the time.
Announcing the decision Wednesday, Chief Justice Ian Kawaley explained that the law actually infringed on the Bermuda Constitution’s provisions guaranteeing the freedoms of conscience and creed. Those who oppose same-sex marriage for religious reasons, he said, don’t have to celebrate or enter into them. “But, in return for the law protecting their own beliefs, they cannot require the law to deprive persons who believe in same-sex marriage of respect and legal protection for their opposing beliefs.”
Unfortunately, the Court did grant a six-week stay, so same-sex marriages will not be able to resume immediately. The decision is nevertheless a blow to conservatives around the world who believed Bermuda was proof that they could dismantle marriage equality elsewhere.