New plan addresses gays, religion

Among the newly revised proposals for constitutional change in the Cayman Islands are statements that a proposed bill of rights will not affect the country’s long-established Christian traditions.

Education Minister Alden McLaughlin revealed a section of the revised plan at a Wednesday night meeting attended by more than 100 people at the George Town Seventh-day Adventist Church: ‘It must be clear that the bill of rights will not affect our Christian traditions, in particular, religious instruction in schools or prayer in schools or public places. It must be clear that the bill of rights will not apply to controversial areas such as recognition of sex change, gay marriage, or (laws that would permit abortions).’

‘It reserves to the government the right to ban or prevent certain conduct, certain actions which potentially adversely impact national security, public morality, public decency,’ Mr. McLaughlin said on Thursday. ‘It then becomes a matter for the courts…to determine whether actions taken by the government were reasonable.’

However, Mr. McLaughlin also told meeting attendees it is unlikely that language banning same sex marriages or certain social activities between gay couples would be permitted within the new constitution.

‘I don’t believe there’s a glimmer of hope that we could approve a bill of rights (with the United Kingdom) that would allow us to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation,’ he said. ‘We’re not going to stop these things from happening by constitutional changes or by changing the law.’

Opposition MLA Cline Glidden Jr. said the ability to differentiate between behaviours was precisely what Caymanians wanted.

‘What the people of Cayman want is to be able to discriminate against behaviour they find offensive,’ Mr. Glidden said.

Mr. McLaughlin said laws against things like gay marriage, civil unions, or anti-social behaviour would be left for the government of the day to deal with in domestic legislation, not in a constitution.

Cayman’s constitutional advisor, Professor Jeffrey Jowell, added that banning certain behaviours was not the purpose of a bill of rights.

‘A bill of rights usually gives rights, not take them away,’ Mr. Jowell said.

The revised proposal for the bill of rights also states that those rights would only apply ‘vertically,’ in other words, between the government and individuals.

‘It will only bind government, governmental institutions and public officials, not private persons, businesses, churches or private schools,’ Mr. McLaughlin said. ‘This will not affect relationships or dealings between private persons, businesses, churches or private schools.’

Mr. McLaughlin said crimes committed against individuals by other individuals, for instance, would be covered under local legislation.

But he said government would not be able to interfere in a private school’s decision to require its students to pray in class, as another example.

Mr. Jowell said he viewed the bill of rights in the constitution as an opportunity for Caymanians to draft a document that does assure local values will be maintained.

‘It is for you to assert your own values; that’s the purpose of the exercise,’ he said. ‘If you don’t want them, now is the time to say that.’