A gay Bermudian who is hoping to marry his partner on the Island wants his landmark case to end a culture of people being forced to “live either a lie or in the shadows or behind closed doors”.
Ijumo Hayward, 46, and his American partner Clarence Williams III, 40, will make legal history if their bid to tie the knot in Bermuda is successful as it would be the first same-sex marriage on these shores.
They are challenging the Bermuda Government through their lawyer Mark Pettingill, who filed a notice of their intended marriage with the Registrar-General on Tuesday.
Mr Pettingill warned in a covering letter that if the notice was not published within three days, in accordance with the Marriage Act 1944, they would take the matter to the Supreme Court.
Mr Hayward, a photographer living in Atlanta who attended West Pembroke Primary School and Warwick Academy, told The Royal Gazette: “As narrow-minded as some of the inhabitants are, there has to be some realisation that in 2015 I’m not the only gay person from Bermuda.
“Anybody else that has wanted to get married as a part of the LGBT community but has to live either a lie or in the shadows or behind closed doors with the person that they love and not living in the authentic truth and being celebrated in that authentic truth, that is wrong.
“Us doing this gives light to anybody else that wants to move forward and live their life as they want to.”
Mr Hayward, who hopes to wed his partner on a south shore beach next summer, said much of the obstruction to same-sex marriage was religious rhetoric and there should be total separation between church and state.
“As a Christian, I believe that we are spirits and the Christ in me is attracted to the Christ in my partner, where we want to connect and become one,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the physical form of the shell. It’s our spirits [that] have connected.
“What gives a heterosexual group of people the right to deny my spirit connecting with someone else’s spirit?”
The couple’s application to marry comes days after the Chief Justice ruled in the case of Bermuda Bred Company v the Minister of Home Affairs that same-sex partners of Bermudians should be given the same rights as heterosexual spouses.
“I’m excited about it,” Mr Hayward said. “It’s well timed. It needs to happen. My partner and I, we had a heart-to-heart discussion about it and fairly quickly came to a decision that, yes, this was something that needed to happen and we have no problem being the public face of it if that’s what it takes.
“Technically, there is no legal reason for us not to get married. In my opinion, there shouldn’t be any obstruction.”
Mr Pettingill said it had long been his view that the 2013 amendment to the Human Rights Act 1981, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, paved the way for same-sex marriage.
He said there was now no impediment in law for a gay couple to be married here, since marriage is a service and the Human Rights Act 1981 outlaws withholding “goods, facilities or services” because of a person’s sexual orientation.
“It’s a pretty simple formula,” the former Attorney-General said. “The Human Rights Act basically has a section which creates what’s called primacy over any other Act. It says this Act shall be construed as having primacy. So the Matrimonial Causes Act may say marriage has to be between a man and a woman, but the Human Rights Act trumps that.”
Mr Pettingill said his clients’ application to marry was not prompted by the Chief Justice’s ruling but described the timing as “immaculate because the one thing the Chief Justice touches on is the primacy of the Act”.
His letter to the Registrar-General, Aubrey Pennyman, states that if the notice to marry is not recorded in the official notice book, posted it in a conspicuous place in the Registrar’s office and published in the Official Gazette within three days, an order of mandamus will be sought. If issued, such an order would require Mr Pennyman to perform his statutory duties.
Mr Pettingill said that would enable the couple to wed and would decide the issue of whether same-sex marriages could be conducted here. The government backbencher added that it was preferable for the courts to determine the issue, rather than politicians.
“I have said all along if a same-sex marriage couple came to see me, I would advise and support them,” Mr Pettingill said. “It’s a belief that I hold very strongly. I have always been a defender of justice and human rights.”
A Ministry of Home Affairs spokeswoman said yesterday: “The Minister of Home Affairs is aware of the application and is consulting with Chambers on the matter. A hearing is scheduled on Monday, December 7, 2015 in respect of issues relating to the Bermuda Bred Company Ltd judgment last week, which we believe will add clarity to the matter as a whole.”
Equal rights campaigner Tony Brannon, whose petition in favour of same-sex marriage has attracted more than 3,500 votes, said Mr Pettingill approached him to see if he knew of a gay couple who would be willing to become the first to challenge the law.
Mr Brannon heard about Mr Hayward and Mr Williams, he said, and contacted them to ask if they were interested in being represented by Mr Pettingill. “It’s a landmark,” said Mr Brannon, who added that allowing the marriage would be the “right thing to do”.
He said: “This is a good thing for Bermuda human rights,” he said. “My hope is that based on the CJ’s ruling the other day ... we just get it over with and do it.”
The marriage application comes in the same week as Ryan Anderson, a right-wing American opponent of same-sex marriage, is on the Island delivering two lectures.
The talks were organised by Preserve Marriage/Concerned Citizens of Bermuda, which says its online petition against same-sex marriage has reached more than 7,000 signatures.
• To read the notice and the covering letter, click on the PDF link above under “Related Media”.