Former Attorney General Files Legal Challenge Against Bermuda's Reversal Of Marriage Equality

Attorney-at-law Mark Pettingill is representing a Bermuda native living in the US who is challenging the Domestic Partnerships Act.

Bermuda former attorney general Mark Pettingill

The Bermudian lawyer who won the May 2017 marriage equality case, Mark Pettingill has filed a legal motion with Bermuda’s Supreme Court to undo the same-sex marriage ban.

Pettingill is representing Roderick Ferguson, a Bermudian who lives in the United States. Pettingill, a former Attorney General, told the Royal Gazette newspaper that he had been approached by other people interested in pursuing a similar legal challenge, but they wanted to remain anonymous, while Ferguson was willing to put his name on the lawsuit.

On February 7, Bermuda became the first territory to legalise and subsequently repeal marriage equality. The reversal included the introduction of the Domestic Partnerships Act (DPA) which offers equal rights as marriage.

Governor of the British Overseas Territory, Bill Rankin, signed the bill which reversed the right for LGBT+ couples to marry. It was also granted approval by the UK’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

Ferguson and Pettingill are hoping to prove that the DPA is null and void as it contradicts the constitution, which guarantees freedom from discrimination.

“My client has the right to the constitutional protection of the law and that has been infringed as a result of the DPA,” said Pettingill.


Discrimination Against LGBT+ in Bermuda

Pettingill added that Ferguson is not currently trying to get married, but he wants to ensure that if he goes that route, that he can be wed in the land of his birth.

Ferguson, 38, said in a statement:

“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.

“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 added.

Pettingill was the lawyer who initially won the May 2017 marriage equality case, only to see it overturned 9 months later. When it was announced that the bill would be revoked, Pettingill commented that he was considering a legal challenge on constitutional grounds:

“Having said that I remain of the view that there is a constitutional position which in my assessment may warrant a legal challenge and I can indicate that this is a matter which is currently under consideration.”

The initial introduction of marriage equality was celebrated by Bermuda’s small gay community, however, the majority of citizens on the socially conservative island were outraged.

After signing the assent, Rankin declined to comment beyond a brief statement: “After careful consideration in line with my responsibilities under the constitution, I have today given assent to the Domestic Partnership Act 2017.”

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