HRC ignored on gay marriage issue

The Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee has acknowledged that it was never consulted by government officials in the drafting of an amendment to the Marriage Law that bans gay marriages in Cayman.

That amendment, which essentially defines marriage solely as the union of a man and a woman, received its final, formal passage in the Legislative Assembly Monday.

‘The HRC is normally asked to comment on new legislation or amendments to legislation that have human rights implications in advance, but in this instance the HRC have not been contacted to provide input of any nature,’ a statement released by the committee read.

The committee has previously released its position concerning human rights regarding marriage and family life during the country’s debate on constitutional reform.

The HRC suggested the following wording granting the legal right to marry in Cayman: ‘Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right.’

The approved amendment defines marriage as: ‘the union of a man and a woman as husband and wife.’

The committee has argued that there should not be discrimination against any other types of unions, which are similar to marriage, if ‘the principle of equality is to be recognised’ in the Cayman Islands.

‘Any civil rights to be granted to the parties of any form of legal union will remain a matter for the legislators, provided these are not discriminatory,’ the HRC statement read.

Civil unions, called civil partnerships in the United Kingdom, are legal arrangements that allow non-married couples, generally of the same sex, to receive the same benefits and shoulder the same responsibilities as married couples. UK law allows for civil partnerships.

In certain jurisdictions, civil unions or partnerships have been used to skirt around laws banning same sex marriage.

Cayman does not recognise the existence of civil partnerships, though it is a British Overseas Territory. The only place the word ‘civil partnership’ appears in Cayman Islands law is within a set of regulations, which govern British passports and British nationality within overseas territories.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts has said Cayman’s government would seek to place language in a revised constitution that would allow marriage to be defined by local legislation. However, Mr. Tibbetts has previously argued against efforts to define civil unions in the Cayman Islands even if it is to outlaw them.

‘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)

Opposition party members said last week that government’s ban on same sex marriage should be broadened to include civil partnerships, fearing that those unions would eventually be forced upon Cayman by the UK or European Union.

The HRC also raised the issue of whether individual religions could perform certain marriage ceremonies, regardless of whether such marriages have actual legal effect according to local laws.

‘It would be a matter for each individual religion as to which marriage ceremony it chooses to sanction or perform,’ the committee statement read.

The committee said it planned to raise a number of issues with the governor and elected government regarding the draft bill of rights which is expected to appear following constitutional negotiations with the UK. Those talks are scheduled to start later this month.