Civil partnerships now legal in the Cayman Islands

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Cayman Islands Governor Martyn Roper

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (CNS) – Governor Martyn Roper assented to what is now called the Civil Partnership Law on Friday, paving the way for same-sex couples in the Cayman Islands to register their relationships and enter into a legally recognised union. The law, along with eleven supporting amendment bills, will provide access to family and other related rights afford to married couples but previously denied to members of the LGBT+ community here.

Although the bill is now law, couples wanting to enter into this new partnership will have to wait until the end of this month because the civil service is being given three weeks to prepare to accept and process applications.

Some amendments have been made to the legislation as a result of the consultation period, including a tightening of open access to the register of civil partnerships, which had caused concerns about potential abuse. In this amended law those wanting to see the register or get information from it will need to provide an adequate reason for doing so to the registrar.

Other parts of the law have also been changed to bring this legislation more in line with the administrative requirements of the Marriage Law.

As he announced on Friday that he had given his assent to the law and the necessary accompanying legislative amendments using his reserved powers under section 81 of the Constitution, Roper once again said he recognised that this was emotive and difficult for some people, but also stressed the importance of recognising the rights of those who had been discriminated against.

“Today we will end the discrimination being suffered by Caymanians and others on our islands whilst protecting the institution of marriage,” Roper stated. “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.”

Reiterating the long history that has led to this point and the accepted legal need to provide a framework functionally equivalent to marriage for same-sex couples, he said the law means that Cayman is now compliant with its own constitution and its obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights.

“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,” the governor said. “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.”

Roper dismissed ideas that his use of his reserved powers was going to lead to an increase in their use. He said Cayman retains full autonomy for domestic issues, such as education and immigration. “The UK fully respects Cayman’s autonomy in domestic affairs,” he said. “UK intervention in this manner is extremely rare.”

While Governor Stuart Jack used an order-in-council to make Cayman pay for the ill-fated Operation Tempura investigation in 2009, the last time a governor’s reserved powers were used was to legalise homosexuality in 2000, and before that it was used to abolish the death penalty in 1991.

“It is wrong to suggest that the UK will seek additional pretexts for intervening,” Roper said, noting that he had never wanted to be placed in the position of having no choice but to use them.

That sentiment was shared by Chantelle Day and her fiancée, Vickie Bodden-Bush. It was their application to marry in April 2018 that eventually led to this law, even though government had known since 2016 that it was in breach of the ECHR and its own constitution.

“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,” the couple told CNS following the announcement Friday.

When Day and Bodden-Bush were making plans to return to the UK almost four years ago they had contacted Premier Alden McLaughlin to ask about what plans government had to introduce same-sex partnerships. They would have been content with the type of legislation passed today if it had allowed them to come home to Cayman as a legally reconised family, but their inquiries met with silence. It was as a result of government’s failure to address their human rights violation that the couple moved to try to marry.

After taking the matter to court, they won their legal case in March 2019, and by changing just eight words in the Marriage Law, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie put an end to the ongoing discrimination and breaches of the Constitution and legalised same-sex marriage.

But under pressure from his own members of the Legislative Assembly as well as many representatives from local churches, Premier Alden McLaughlin challenged the move and won the appeal. However, although the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal overturned the chief justice’s ruling, it gave a direction to government to pass legislation to provide some form of marriage equivalency.

Day and Bodden-Bush are still fighting for same-sex marriage and their case will be heard by the Privy Council in February. Nevertheless, they noted the significance of today’s events. “We recognise this as a huge achievement and step forward on the road to equality for all in Cayman,” they stated.

Meanwhile, Colours Cayman the local LGBT+ community advocacy group, also welcomed the move, which has taken a long time to achieve. “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,” said President Billie Bryan.

But the LGBT activist said an alternative framework “is tantamount to legal segregation” and that the group believes the Cayman Constitution 2009 does not allow people to be treated separately but equally on any grounds. “We mustn’t forget why we are here: the Court of Appeal made segregation possible by effect of their judgment of November last year,” she added.

The Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission had advised government in 2016 that legislation was required to address marriage equality. That advice was supported by continuing advocacy by Colours Cayman. But Bryan pointed out that it was not until Day and Bodden-Bush took legal action that government began to take any notice of the persistent discrimination against the LGBT+ community and the need to address it.

In his statement issued on Friday, the governor said he hoped that the islands can now move forward and come together as a community. “Let us refocus our energies on pressing matters such as responding to the global pandemic, rebuilding our economy and protecting our environment,” Roper added.

But with significant opposition still coming from the church and the majority of legislators, including Cabinet members, the passage of this law is unlikely to put an end to this issue.

Republished with permission of Cayman News Service

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