Bermuda's supreme court legalizes same-sex marriage - again

  • by Heather Cassell
  • Wednesday June 13, 2018
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Same-sex marriage is legal again in Bermuda.

The Caribbean island nation's Supreme Court re-legalized marriage equality June 6.

The court originally allowed same-sex marriage in May 2017 when it decided on a case brought by gay couple Greg DeRoche and Winston Godwin after they were refused the right to marry.

But earlier this year, Bermuda reversed its same-sex marriage law in favor of the Domestic Partnership Act 2017, which went into effect June 1. That repealed the previous same-sex marriage law, which was opposed by religious and conservative organizations.

It marked the first time a country had legalized same-sex marriage, then repealed it.

In his decision, Chief Justice Ian Kawaley wrote that Bermuda's constitution is secular, and it is "designed to require the State to give maximum protection for freedom of conscience."

"The present decision vindicates the principle that Parliament cannot impose the religious preferences of any one group on the society as a whole through legislation of general application," he wrote.

Bermuda received harsh criticism from around the world after the marriage law's reversal. The island lost tourism due to the action. There were calls for boycotts to the popular vacation destination, and it prevented cruise ships registered in the country to conduct same-sex marriages.

The Bermuda Tourism Authority warned about the consequences of enacting the law.

Human Rights Campaign Global Director Ty Cobb said last week that the court's action "righted an injustice."

The Bermuda government has six weeks to appeal Kawaley's decision.

NBC News reported that Minister of Home Affairs Walton Brown told the Royal Gazette the ruling will be challenged.

Barbadian LGBT activists petition IACHR to strike down buggery laws

Three Barbadian LGBT activists petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to repeal the country's buggery laws that criminalize homosexuality.

One of the plaintiff's attorneys also called upon newly elected Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley to do away with the Caribbean island nation's buggery laws during a June 6 news conference after filing the petition.

Mottley and her political party, the Barbados Labour Party, swept the elections last month, regaining power after a decade.

IACHR is an autonomous arm of the Organization of American States promoting and protecting human rights in the Americas.

This is the first time Barbadians have challenged the country's 150-year-old buggery laws instituted by Britain during its colonial era in 1868. The law was updated with harsher penalties under the Sexual Offences Act in 1992.

Barbadians were forced to petition the IACHR due to the constitution's "savings clause," which prevents local courts from reviewing laws prior to the country's independence in 1966, according to Jamaican gay activist and attorney Maurice Tomlinson, who is one of the pro-bono litigation attorneys for the petitioners.

Currently, Barbadians charged under sections of the act face long prison sentences, including up to life.

Tomlinson, who is senior policy analyst of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, was joined by Yvonne Chisolm, who is also working on the case as a pro-bono litigation counsel, and one of the plaintiffs, Alexa Hoffman, a 24-year-old transgender woman.

Hoffman is the only plaintiff willing to speak publicly about challenging Barbados's buggery laws.

Tomlinson pointed out the harm the laws have done to Barbados' LGBT community and the effects upon HIV/AIDS on the Caribbean island.

He called Section 9 of the Barbados Sexual Offences Act, the buggery law updated in 1992, "the worst anti-gay law in the Western Hemisphere, carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment."

Hoffman told reporters, "With these laws, we have been stripped of the freedom to enjoy one of the most important aspects of any romantic relationship - intimacy."

She stated that due to these laws many LGBT Barbadians are stigmatized, discriminated against, and abused daily.

"These laws violate the human rights of all Barbadians, but they are overwhelmingly used to discriminate against LGBTQ people," she continued.

Additionally, the laws continue to pose a threat to Barbados' battle against HIV/AIDS, Tomlinson noted.

"These laws directly contribute to the Caribbean having the second-highest HIV prevalence rate after sub-Saharan Africa," he said.

"Barbadian men who have sex with men are particularly vulnerable and have an estimated HIV prevalence rate of 14 percent, compared to 1.3 percent in the general population," he noted. "This is a public health crisis with significant negative social and economic consequences, which undermine Barbados' development."

The law has also attracted anti-gay extremists to the island nation to promote homophobia, Tomlinson noted.

IACHR doesn't have a timeline for issuing a decision.

The petition is supported by the Legal Network, along with Trans Advocacy and Agitation Barbados and the University of Toronto's International Human Rights Program.

Being gay is not an illness, Indian psychiatric group says

India's largest organization of mental health professionals declared June 8 that "homosexuality should not be treated as an illness."

Indian Psychiatric Society President Ajit Bhide, Ph.D., took to Facebook in a video statement, saying, "Certain people are not cut out to be heterosexual, and we don't need to castigate them, we don't need to punish them, to ostracize them.

"Whatever your sexual orientation, whatever your sexual preference, as long as there is no other party being hurt, an individual should be allowed to practice," he continued.

The organization is made up of an estimated 3,000 members, according to the Hindustan Times.

"This statement is our official stand on homosexuality, that it is not a disease and should not be treated like one," Kersi Chavda, Ph.D., chairperson of the IPS?task force that deals with emotional issues of LGBTQs, told the newspaper.

India's Supreme Court recriminalized homosexuality when it reinstated Section 377 of the country's penal code in 2013, but at the beginning of this year the court requested a review of the law.

The Delhi High Court had repealed the criminalization of homosexuality in 2009.

The court hasn't announced a decision of its review of Section 377.

Bhide noted in the video that a majority of global psychiatric organizations have stricken homosexuality as a mental illness from their books.

The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality as a mental illness or sickness in 1973. The World Health Organization made the same change in 1992.

Gay Indian activist Vikram Doctor welcomed the change in policy, but told the Times it was overdue.

"It should have been done 20 years, but I am glad they have now come up with it," he said.

Mental health professionals and doctors embraced the policy change. Many told the Times they hope it will halt conversion therapies.

U.S. politicians re-introduce bill to protect LGBTs globally

Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-California) and Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) re-introduced the International Human Rights Defense Act of 2018 in the House and Senate, respectively, June 7.

The bill was originally introduced in 2015.

The goal of the bill is to strengthen the United States' diplomacy in its foreign policy to make LGBT equality a priority at home and abroad, according to the news release from Lowenthal's office Friday.

The bill would make preventing and responding to discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ community a foreign policy priority and permanently create a special envoy within the State Department who would serve as principal adviser to the secretary of state on LGBTQ issues, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Randy Berry was the first special envoy for human rights of LGBTI persons. But the position hasn't been codified into law. He left after Trump became president, and a replacement hasn't been named. The position could be eliminated without legislative action.

"It is part of our duty as a nation built on the concept of equality, that we do what we can to enforce the precept that all people are entitled to the same set of basic human rights," Lowenthal said in the release. "These rights include the right to love who they chose without fear of punishment or death. LGBTI rights are human rights."

Homosexuality is criminalized in more than 80 countries around the world. In seven countries homosexuality is punishable by death, his office noted.

"This special envoy position at the State Department will be a global model for defending LGBTQ rights around the world," Markey said in a statement. "For the United States to hold true to our commitment to defend the human rights of all people around the world, we must stand with the LGBTQ community in their struggle for recognition and equality everywhere."

The bill would not only institutionalize the LGBT special envoy position, it would also require the State Department to continue reporting on LGBT issues in its annual human rights report.

The bill has the support of 65 original co-sponsors in the House and 19 original co-sponsors in the Senate, including most out members of Congress and many others. Notably, gay Congressman Jared Polis (D-Colorado) has not signed on to the bill yet. Nor have California's Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, or House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco.)

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell or [email protected].