In a case that could have far-reaching consequences for gay rights in the Virgin Islands, two women who have been legally married under United Kingdom law since 2019 are seeking to have their marriage recognised in the territory.

Kinisha Forbes and Kirsten Lettsome sued the government on June 9, claiming that the registrar general denied them a marriage licence on Feb. 2 because they are of the same sex.

The defendants — who are being represented by PST Law — are asking the court to declare that their marriage is valid under VI law and that prohibiting same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

They are also asking for the court to void and declare unconstitutional section 13(c) of the 1995 Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act, which states that a marriage will be void if “the parties are not respectively male and female.”

The case

In their filing, the claimants argue that the prohibition of same-sex marriage contravenes several sections of the Constitution, including section nine, which declares fundamental rights and freedoms of all individuals regardless of sexual orientation.

They also cite section 12, which grants equality before the law; section 19, which protects the rights of an individual’s private life; section 20, which protects the right of every “man and woman” to marry; section 21, which protects the freedom of conscience, thought and belief; and section 26, which protects individuals from discrimination.

Hearing set for February

In a preliminary hearing on Nov. 9, the parties agreed on a date of Feb. 14 for the first hearing, and High Court Justice Vicki Ann Ellis adjourned the matter until then.

The attorney general, the registrar general, PST law, and the claimants did not respond to requests for comment.

In the OTs

Same-sex marriage has been a controversial topic in several of the United Kingdom’s 14 over-seas territories in recent years.

In 2019, a report by the UK House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee advised the UK government to force the OTs to legalise the practice.

But the UK government responded by saying it had no plans to do so, instead pledging to continue encouraging OTs to “recognise and protect same-sex relationships.”

In some OTs, couples have sued to challenge bans on same-sex marriage. Two of those cases are currently before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the OTs’ highest court of appeal.

In Bermuda, same-sex marriage was legalised in May 2017 after a couple sued the government, but the territory’s parliament responded by passing a law to ban same-sex marriage and establish domestic partnerships instead.

The ban, however, was challenged in two lawsuits, and same-sex marriage remains legal in Bermuda pending a decision from the Privy Council.

The Cayman Islands has seen similar legal wrangling.

There, a landmark 2019 court decision ruled that preventing same-sex unions violates an individual’s rights to private and family life guaranteed in the Cayman constitution.

However, the ruling was overturned later that year after the government appealed. As a result, same-sex marriage is currently not recognised in the territory, though a law passed last year recognises same-sex civil partnerships instead.

As in Bermuda, however, the Cayman ban on same-sex marriage is being challenged in the Privy Council, which began hearing both appeals in February.

Claire Shefchik contributed to this article.