Cayman Islands lawmakers voted in favour of a ban on same sex marriages following a debate Friday in the Legislative Assembly.
The Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2008 still requires the legal formality of a third vote before passing, but lawmakers unanimously approved a key second vote on the measure Friday afternoon. The formal third vote is expected sometime this week.
The ban, accomplished simply by defining marriage as ‘the union between a man and a woman as husband and wife,’ will be added as an amendment to the Marriage Law (2007 Revision) when Governor Stuart Jack signs it. Neither Mr. Jack nor officials with the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office have given any indication that they will refuse to accept the amendment.
‘The people of the Cayman Islands are sending a clear signal that they do not wish to change the definition of marriage,’ Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said. ‘The purpose (of this amendment) is to confirm and clarify what the Marriage Law has always meant in Caymanian society.’
Mr. Tibbetts said the government did not mean the amendment as an insult or commentary on other countries and other cultures that have legalised same sex marriage. He said there were just certain aspects of the islands heritage and culture Caymanians didn’t wish to change.
Other ruling party lawmakers expected some criticism over the vote.
‘I just want to warn my colleagues to gird their loins,’ Health Minister Anthony Eden said, adding that when the Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee heard about the amendment ‘we will be hearing their comments.’
Lawmakers said, despite the controversial nature of the issue, they are confident their actions reflect what the majority of Caymanian voters want.
A Caymanian Compass on-line poll done in July 2007 found about 60 per cent of respondents were in favour of defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The Compass poll is non-scientific and does not seek to determine whether respondents are likely voters.
The government did hear some criticism on Friday from opposition party members, not over the amendment itself, but over whether the legislation went far enough.
West Bay MLA Cline Glidden Jr. asked what would happen if a couple that participated in a civil union in Britain moved to the Cayman Islands. Civil unions, or civil partnerships as they are known in the UK, allow same sex couples to receive the same legal benefits and bear the same responsibilities as heterosexual married couples.
‘What recognition or respect would be given to those two individuals in the Cayman Islands?’ Mr. Glidden asked. ‘Would they be allowed to adopt children? Would they be allowed to have joint bank accounts? Share pension benefits?
West Bay MLA Rolston Anglin also questioned whether the marriage ban would apply to someone who had a sex change operation and suggested that the law be amended to include phrases ‘born a man’ and ‘born a woman’ in the text.
Attorney General Samuel Bulgin said the government would need more time to look into the ramifications of making further adjustments to the law such as Mr. Anglin and Mr. Glidden had suggested.
‘The definition is sufficiently wide enough for the time being,’ Mr. Bulgin said.
Mr. Glidden and Sister Islands MLA Julianna O’Connor-Connolly also questioned the government as to whether UK assurances that local legislation in Cayman would define marriage were reliable.
Mr. Tibbetts said the issue would come up in constitutional talks with the UK, which are scheduled to begin toward the end of this month. The government has proposed inserting language in the country’s constitution stating that marriage would be defined by local laws, in order to remove any doubt.
The Leader of Government Business has previously said that he is reluctant to include a ban on civil unions in local legislation because any such attempt would require Cayman to define civil unions and thereby recognise their existence.
‘If we were to define civil unions it would mean we would condone them, and accept them and allow them, and I’m saying otherwise,’ Mr. Tibbetts has said. (See Caymanian Compass, 8 July, 2007)
Mr. Tibbetts also said he was not concerned about the loss of what is often referred to as ‘the pink dollar’ in tourism, and said the Marriage Law amendment would not have any affect on visitors or residents’ conduct in their private lives.
‘Caymanians are well aware that people of a different persuasion come to our shores and they have been welcomed here,’ he said. ‘The basis of this bill is not financial calculations. We don’t set our family values based on how much money they make for us.’
Opposition members agreed.
‘This is not intruding on people’s practices in their own homes and behind closed doors,’ Mr. Anglin said.