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British Governor will overrule Cayman Islands to impose same-sex domestic partnership law

British Governor will overrule Cayman Islands to impose same-sex domestic partnership law

  • Meanwhile a UK court may still order marriage equality on the Caribbean islands.
Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush with their attorney.

The British Governor of the Cayman Islands will overrule the Legislative Assembly to impose same-sex domestic partnerships.

Governor Martyn Roper is stepping in after the assembly refused to pass the Domestic Partnership Bill last week.

However, both Cayman Islands and international courts insist the islands must recognize same-sex couples.

The islands are a British Overseas Territory. And when the bill failed in the assembly, Roper said he was consulting London over what to do next. Now he says he has no choice but to overrule the assembly. In a statement he said:

As a result Roper – acting for the UK government

‘As governor, this is not a position I would ever have wanted to be in. Since arriving in October 2018, I have fully respected Cayman’s extensive responsibility for dealing with domestic matters.

‘But I cannot simply stand aside when it comes to upholding the rule of law and complying with international obligations, which fall squarely within my responsibilities as governor.’

He expects the bill to be law by next month.

Legal battles

The Domestic Partnership Bill falls a long way short of same-sex marriage. It only offers basic next of kin rights to partners who register.

However, Roper thinks it’s enough to satisfy the courts. Two court decisions have ruled the islands need to recognize same-sex couples.

While the islands govern themselves, as a British Overseas Territory, they are under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. This will continue even after Britain finishes leaving the European Union this year, as the court is separate to the EU.

While that court hasn’t yet ruled for marriage equality, it did rule in 2015 that member states should recognize same-sex unions.

At the time the Cayman Islands reacted by reaffirming its ban on same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, last year same-sex couple Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush won the right to full same-sex marriage in the islands’ Grand Court.

However, the Court of Appeal delayed the implementation of the ruling in April. It then decided in November to keep same-sex marriages on hold while telling the island’s government to act.

‘Sensitive and controversial’

Cayman Islands' Governor Martyn Roper.
Cayman Islands’ Governor Martyn Roper. UK FCO

That forced Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin to propose the Domestic Partnerships Bill in June.

But while it fell a long way short of marriage equality, many assembly members remained opposed to it. They defeated it last week in a 9-8 vote.

At the time, McLaughlin predicted the UK would intervene and enforce same-sex marriage within 30 days.

However, Governor Roper’s intervention falls a long way short of that. It appears to be an attempt by the UK to allow the minimum it thinks is required to satisfy the courts.

Roper said: ‘The failure of the Legislative Assembly to pass the Domestic Partnership Bill leaves me, as governor and the UK Government, with no option but to act to uphold the law.

‘It was clear to me that the bill would satisfy the legal requirement and at the same time maintain the current definition of marriage.

‘I fully recognise how sensitive and controversial this issue is. But it was my expectation, and that of the FCO [UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office], that all lawmakers would recognise their legal responsibility and pass the bill after debate in the Legislative Assembly.

‘In seeking to find a way forward, I believe I have been consistent and true to my pledge when I arrived to serve all the people of these wonderful islands to the best of my ability.

‘I hope we can soon put this divisive debate behind us and come together as a people as we continue to navigate our way through a challenging global pandemic.’

Roper will publish the bill again on Monday (10 August). The Cayman Islands Constitution then gives 21 days for the public and the Legislative Assembly to comment.

The governor expects it to become law in early September.

Marriage equality may not be far away

Leonardo Raznovich, an attorney for LGBT+ organization Colours Cayman, welcomed Roper’s decision. He told Cayman Compass:

‘Let’s not lose sight that we are here because the legislators last week decided to take us into a path of anarchy.

‘To reject the DPB [Domestic Partnership Bill], as they did, they placed themselves above the law of the land. The governor had no option but to put them back where they ought to be according to the Constitution: under the law.’

However Raznovich wishes the governor had pushed through same-sex marriage equality instead.

Nevertheless, that may still happen.

Bodden Bush and Day are appealing their case to the UK Privy Council. This court in London acts as the supreme court of a number of British territories and colonies.

Indeed, Bermuda’s courts also agreed to same-sex marriage only for the government to appeal. That case is also going to the Privy Council and it may hear the cases at the same time.

Moreover, Raznovich rates the chances of the Privy Council ruling for marriage equality as high.

He said: ‘Their case remains strong as a matter of equality under the constitution and the [Privy Council] will almost certainly say that.’