By Emma Farge
HAMILTON, Bermuda (Reuters) - Bermuda's government on Thursday filed an appeal to a high court in London seeking to uphold a law challenged in local courts that would ban gay marriage in the British overseas island.
In February, Bermuda's governor, John Rankin, approved the Domestic Partnership Act (DPA), which allows same-sex couples to form domestic partnerships but not marry, marking a rare departure from the trend towards legalizing gay marriage in Western countries.
The government of Bermuda, a wealthy territory of 60,000 people, says domestic partnerships offer equal rights as marriage. But two local courts deemed the DPA unconstitutional, most recently in November, suspending its implementation.
Thousands of people on the socially conservative island support a ban on gay marriage.
Bermuda's government said it is appealing the matter to London's Privy Council, the highest court of appeal for British territories, because the matter is of general public importance.
"Constitutional issues are important issues and this Government wants to get it right," the government said in a statement on Thursday.
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has yet to decide whether to grant permission to appeal. A spokeswoman for the Privy Council could not immediately be reached for comment.
Appeals to the Privy Council are rare, with only one or two cases from Bermuda brought each year, according to court records seen by Reuters.
Local courts said the DPA violates a clause in the constitution that protects freedom of conscience, handing down rulings that were celebrated by local lawyers and activists who have fought to undo the legislation.
"This is a cynical, bigoted, hypocritical attack on the rights and freedoms of others," said Tony Brannon, a gay rights activist in Bermuda, of the appeal to the Privy Council.
If gay marriage is allowed to stand, its proponents expect it to set a precedent for other British territories.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Daina Beth Solomonand Leslie Adler)