Last year, Bermuda made history when its Supreme Court legalized marriage equality. A few months later, Bermuda’s Parliament voted to replace it with a domestic partnerships law. The newest law, while offering partnership rights, banishes the full equality that only marriage can bestow to all couples.
HRC spoke with OUTBermuda Board of Directors Deputy Chairperson Zakiya Johnson Lord about the repeal of marriage equality and the battles ahead.
What is OUTBermuda?
OUTBermuda began because many LGBTQ Bermudians--myself included--who were partnered with non-Bermudians experienced discrimination. We wanted to highlight the emotional and financial costs that we were incurring, simply because of our sexual orientation and who we love.
OUTBermuda was registered as a public charity in 2016. To be very clear, we want more than equal marriage rights—we are advocating for equity in all things. We want schools that are affirming, families that are welcomed and respected, workplace inclusivity, health care that is responsive to our lives and needs and a society that not merely recognizes us, but embraces us.
How has OUTBermuda responded to the repeal of marriage equality?
We felt affirmed when Bermuda celebrated the historic same sex marriage ruling last May, but the recent domestic partnership law rolls back our rights to marriage and we believe it is unconstitutional. It will come into effect on June 1.
OUTBermuda joined with an individual plaintiff, Maryellen Jackson, and filed a challenge to the law earlier this month. This case was consolidated with an existing case brought by Bermudian Roderick Ferguson, and will be heard before the Supreme Court on May 21 and 22.
One of our main concerns is that domestic partnerships likely will not be recognized internationally in the same ways as marriage. There is high probability that persons entering into domestic partnership in Bermuda will face significant hurdles to accessing the protections and safeguards that married couples are entitled to, including hospital visitation, child custody and care.
What has the private sector said about the repeal of marriage equality?
The Bermuda Tourism Authority and others have highlighted both the positive economic benefits that result from marriage equality and the possible adverse consequences to not supporting equality. Bermudian LGBTQ advocates, residents and allies have called for marriage equality to be reinstated and are encouraged by business leaders joining our campaign, including Carnival Corporation, which owns several major cruise lines with ships registered in Bermuda. We expect—and hope—more corporations will follow.
What should the world know about Bermuda and your fight for equality?
We are proud of Bermuda’s remarkable progress over the past 25 years, beginning with overturning our sodomy law in 1994. In just the last five years, we’ve made great strides on immigration and adoption rights. It’s safe to say that Bermuda, compared with other jurisdictions, is a welcoming and progressive place for LGBTQ people – but full equality is still our goal.
We welcome your understanding and support for our cause and our pending litigation. We want individuals to learn more about our island, take note of its progress and show support. Learn more at www.OUTBermuda.org.
If you win, what’s next for the LGBTQ movement in Bermuda?
After we win this case, we are looking positively at the work to do on behalf of our community. Bermuda deserves the best that the world has to offer. We want residents and visitors alike to feel welcomed and embraced. Bermudian employees deserve the best and brightest leadership. We want to remain an attractive destination for locals to want to live and love and raise families; for businesses to want to invest, for tourists to want to visit and executives to want to work and enhance job opportunities for all Bermudians.
Zakiya Johnson Lord proudly hails from the island of Bermuda, where she was born and raised. She is the Deputy Chairperson of OUTBermuda’s Board of Directors and works for the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice in New York City—where she and her spouse Chastity are raising their young son.