The meeting about the proposed constitution hosted by the Cayman Minister’s Association last week was remarkable in many ways.
Some 500 people packed the Family Life Centre to listen to comments by representatives of key stakeholder groups involved in the constitution negotiations with the United Kingdom. Most of these people stayed for the entire three-and-a-half hour meeting, and some stood in queues for twenty minutes or more to ask questions or make comments.
Unlike the meetings held last year by the Constitutional Secretariat, this meeting was not an educational lecture followed by a few questions, but an honest-to-goodness debate of the issues between some of Cayman’s brightest minds.
Unlike most of those Constitutional Secretariat gatherings held last year, it was not just the government participating in the meeting, but a variety of stakeholders including the opposition. Just as importantly, there were a vast variety of viewpoints represented in the audience as well, and seemingly little reluctance to make those viewpoints known.
It became obvious last Thursday that there is still a great deal of difference in the viewpoints, particularly on the bill of rights, not only between the stakeholder representatives that attended the constitutional negotiations, but also between members of the public.
Just as the debate between the government and the Human Rights Committee on the bill of rights has been spirited, so is the debate on the bill of rights among the public. Views vary significantly, and yes, much of the debate centres on whether or not homosexual men and women should have equal standing when it comes to constitutional rights here.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts admitted that when he said a consensus had been reached among the negotiating representatives on the proposed constitution, he was not implying everyone agreed; only the majority.
Whether or not there is a majority consensus among the public is a question that will be decided in the referendum on the constitution scheduled for May.
Regardless of that outcome, the constitutional modernisation process itself represents a social advancement in the Cayman Islands. The fact that a large number of people can meet and intelligently discuss varying viewpoints in spirited, yet civilised, debate is an indication we are evolving as a society.
Issues, which really should have probably been discussed more rationally long ago, are now getting the considered public airing they deserve. And that is a welcome sign.