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Cayman Islands now have same-sex civil partnerships but battle for marriage equality goes on

Cayman Islands now have same-sex civil partnerships but battle for marriage equality goes on

  • British governor forced through the new Civil Partnership Law. Meanwhile LGBT+ campaigners won’t accept ‘legal segregation’ and are fighting for marriage.
Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush with their attorney.

The governor of the Cayman Islands has now signed the Civil Partnership Law, allowing same-sex couples to register their relationships.

However, the new partnerships fall far short of marriage equality and LGBT+ campaigners have pledged to fight on. Their battle is likely to end in a British court next year.

The Cayman Islands government failed to push its own Domestic Partnership Bill through the islands’ assembly at the end of July.

That forced Governor Martyn Roper to intervene. He is a British government representative as the Caymans are a British Overseas Territory.

That means the European Convention of Human Rights as well as the Cayman Islands’ own constitution govern its laws. Therefore, when the government bill failed, Roper said he had to act to make the country comply with its international legal obligations.

Roper said: ‘Today we will end the discrimination being suffered by Caymanians and others on our islands whilst protecting the institution of marriage.

‘This action does not alter or undermine the strong Christian heritage and values of the people of the Cayman Islands. No one is being asked to change their long-held beliefs.

‘An important principle in our Constitution and Bill of Rights is the protection of minorities. That principle protects all of us, now and in the future. We cannot pick and choose which rights are protected.

‘I urge everyone to recognise that same-sex couples have the right to legal and financial protection like everyone else. Accepting diversity and difference shows to the world that we are a caring community based on mutual respect, tolerance and equality for all.’

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

The continuing legal battle

Roper’s intervention in the Cayman Islands’ internal affairs was a rare moment. In fact, the last time a governor imposed their will in this way was to decriminalize homosexuality in 2000. Before that, it was to abolish the death penalty in 1991.

While the Civil Partnership Law is now in place, couples will have to wait until the end of the month to register. That’s because the islands’ civil service now has three weeks to accept and process applications.

However, it isn’t the end of the story for same-sex marriage.

The push for marriage equality got a turbo charge last year when 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.

When the government’s compromise failed, Roper intervened. However, his intervention appears to be the minimum needed to keep the Cayman Islands in line with European law.

Despite this, Day and Bush are continuing their legal fight for full marriage equality. They 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.

High chance of same-sex marriage equality

Now Colours Cayman the local LGBT+ community advocacy group, has applied to join and support their Privy Council Case.

The organization’s President Billie Bryan welcomed the Civil Partnership Law:

‘While the law certainly falls short of providing full equality to same-sex couples, it is nevertheless a significant step forward for all of the Caribbean region and the Cayman Islands has now become something of a beacon of hope.’

However, she said by having a separate law rather than marriage equality, the Caymans were pursuing ‘legal segregation’.

This, Bryan said, was not acceptable. She explained: ‘We believe that our constitution does not allow for treating people separate but equal on any grounds.’

Moreover, she is confident that the Privy Council in London will agree. She added:

‘Unless the judges of the Privy Council are biased and homophobic, by next spring, we shall no longer have only equal rights with a different name, but we shall have instead achieved equal rights with the same name.’

Indeed, Bush and Day also take the view that the Cayman Islands government is fighting a losing legal battle. Talking to the Cayman News Service, they said:

‘The governor should never have been put in the position to have to use his reserved powers under the constitution to uphold the rule of law. Similarly, the government should not have wasted money and our time dragging us through the court system for an inevitable result.’