Editor’s note: After this story was published, on February 7, 2018, Bermudan Governor John Rankin signed the Domestic Partnership Act 2017, effectively banning same-sex marriage on the island. Couples who form domestic partnerships will have similar rights to married couples, but will legally not be married.
It’s a modern fairytale: Boy meets boy online. Boys fall in love, which leads to an engagement on a beach in Bermuda, and then a legal fight demanding the right to marry on the British island territory.
When Bermudan Winston Godwin, 28, and Canadian Greg DeRoche, 30, began dating almost three years ago, the couple couldn’t have fathomed that their relationship would be thrust into the international spotlight as the center of a court case arguing for marriage equality in Bermuda. They couldn’t have known that a judge would rule in their favor, or that just seven months later, the island’s government would vote to strip those new rights away.
Just last week the Bermuda Parliament voted overwhelmingly for a domestic partnership bill that would end marriage equality on the island. If the governor signs it, it will become law, and Bermuda will ban same-sex marriage just months after legalizing it.
ABP spoke with Godwin and DeRoche—who recently got married in Toronto—to hear their perspectives on being part of history, fighting for LGBTQ rights and how it feels when your government is explicitly working against you.
Winston: The start of it was this referendum that we had in Bermuda a week before we got engaged [in June 2016]. For whatever reason, they felt the public should be asked this question, whether you supported same-sex marriages or same-sex civil unions.
Only 46 percent of the voting population actually voted, because it was less than the 50 percent required, the referendum was essentially unanswered. [The majority of those who did vote opposed both same-sex marriage and civil unions.]
Greg and I were contacted asking if this was something we wanted to take to the courts and fight legally to try and get marriage equality brought to Bermuda. Greg and I spoke about it a bit and both agreed: Why wouldn’t we be a part of something like this?
The marriage equality fight was never really about us. We wanted to ensure it was done because it was more so overdue in Bermuda. And why not be a part of something so awesome?
Greg: At the time when we made our decision we were living in Canada. So we weren’t facing the everyday life and the day-to-day exposure to it in Bermuda.
During the process, Winston ended up moving back here, and that’s when it sunk in a little bit more. Him having to deal with the day-to-day aspects, just interacting with Bermudans who would come up to him and question the court case and want updates when neither of us were sometimes privy to all the information.
Winston: We never considered the real magnitude of it all. I felt it was probably just a Bermuda local thing. For it to have garnered so much attention, positive and negative, it kind of forced you to step back and just be like, “Whoa.”
It’s cool to be a part of something so big, but also it kind of makes you step back and really realize the impact that you could potentially be having. So many people have reached out to both of us just thanking us for providing that voice to them. Other people tell us about family members that they’ve lost. They open up to you on a level that I wouldn’t have expected. That’s something that always kept us going with it, as difficult as it was at times.
I think it ended up taking 12 weeks to get our final ruling, so that time in between, I was kinda concerned. The court case ended I think on February 5, and then we got the ruling May 5. So there was quite some time in between. You’re going through all the scenarios in your head as to why it could’ve gone one way or another.
Greg: It just felt like it was dragging on and on. It was a bit discouraging in that sense. I had a lot of anxiety about it. I was getting really antsy about the outcome.
Winston: Our argument was that marriage was a service, and if it is a service, then you can’t discriminate against people that identify as homosexual or whatever the case is.
When [Judge Charles-Etta Simmons] finally ruled in our favor it was so exciting and relieving. In that moment it was great. In that moment there was so much support and love in that room.
I honestly thought at that point that it was kind of over. Like, we’re done. We did it. Only to have that shut down seven months later.
Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Lowdown, ABP’s weekly roundup of under-the-radar headlines, mind-blowing science and emerging talent. Make your Tuesday a little cooler.
Winston: You can’t help but feel a little defeated. You work so hard and fight so hard and are so vocal about something that’s very passionate for both us, to have this government work tirelessly to take that away.
When the case first happened there were talks about it being appealed, but the government in power at the time said they weren’t going to appeal it. Since then there’s been an election. Now this new, more conservative government is in power. That was one of their platform points—to remove same-sex marriage. You’re allowed to have the rights, is what they said, but you can’t have the term marriage. They feel that they somehow own this term “marriage”, and marriage should only be between man and woman.
It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating we fought so long. It’s frustrating that in 2017 we’re still having to prove ourselves and prove our love is no different than anyone else’s love. It’s frustrating that as much as you would want to talk to people about it and honestly hear their points, the only argument that they have is the Bible taught me so.
At this point the [domestic partnership] bill is just waiting to be signed, or shut down, by the governor. I would ask him to strongly consider what this bill represents. Because we have had seven or eight same-sex marriages since May, you’re essentially stripping a right away from people. I would love for him to reconsider.
I honestly thought at that point that it was kind of over. Like, we’re done. We did it.
Winston: Bermuda itself is very conservative. Religion plays a very big role in many households here. When you bring politics into a situation, it’s very difficult for them to separate church and state.
Living day to day [as an LGBT person], you’re tolerated. In comparison to somewhere like Toronto, San Francisco and New York, in those sorts of places you’re accepted and celebrated even. In Bermuda, they know that there’s an LGBT community here obviously. It exists. It’s not illegal to be gay here. It’s almost like a lot of things, they just don’t talk about it or they pretend to sweep it under the rug and not acknowledge it.
Whether you like it or not, we’re here. At the end of the day, we’re really no different than you. We all bleed, we all love, we all go to work. We’re really no different, and the love’s no different.
I hope that Greg and I have instilled a bit of strength and have inspired others to fight for what they believe in and stand up for themselves. I hope that we’ve given a voice to that movement. I would love to see this push for marriage equality to eventually be something that is uncontested. It’s not something that happens overnight. It does take time. But I don’t think it’s impossible.
The LGBT community in Bermuda or elsewhere—regardless of what your government or jurisdiction or leaders are telling you—you are loved, you are worthy of love and you deserve that. You deserve happiness. I hope that people aren’t discouraged. I hope that you continue to fight for what you believe.
Love is a terrible thing to hate.