MPs slam Cayman constitution

Wanted gay rights in, religion out

Members of the British parliament’s foreign affairs committee described as ‘deplorable’ the omission of gay rights in Cayman’s draft constitution.

The committee members also raised concerns over the mention of Christian values in the constitution, which is expected to be implemented this year.

The committee referred to two draft constitutions from Overseas Territories – the Cayman Islands and St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.

The committee’s report stated: ‘Both draft constitutions contained references in their preambles to the Christian religion. The preamble to the Cayman Islands draft constitution referred to that Territory as being “a God-fearing country based on traditional Christian values, tolerant of other religions and beliefs”.’

A letter from the Parliamentary Under Secretary for State Chris Bryant to the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mike Gapes, stated that since the vast majority of the population of the Cayman Islands is Christian, he did not find the reference to Christian values to be inappropriate.

‘I would add, however, that in negotiating this point with the Cayman Islands delegation we suggested the addition of the words “tolerant of other religions and beliefs”,’ he said in the letter dated July 2009.

More than 60 per cent of people who cast votes in a referendum in May this year voted for the draft constitution.

The Foreign Affairs Committee recommended that in all future discussions with Overseas Territories about revisions to their constitutions, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office insists that no specific religion or faith community be singled out for privileged mention.

It also recommended that anti-discrimination provisions should mention sexual orientation.

It said the Cayman Islands draft constitution ‘does not explicitly mention sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination. In addition, there is an exemption for any claim of discrimination on grounds of, inter alia, “public morality”.’

The MPs said in their report: ‘The possibility cannot be ruled out that the drafting of the constitution in this regard may result in Cayman Islands courts affording to citizens of those islands less than the full protection, which they are entitled to under the European Convention on Human Rights.’

It said the omission of homosexuality as grounds for discrimination was at the ‘behest of the Islanders’.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office argued that the list of grounds for discrimination is open-ended and thus does not exclude sexual orientation.

However, the MPs pointed out that the case law on European Convention on Human Rights, Article 14, made it clear that sexual orientation is a “status” and that differential treatment on that basis requires ‘particularly weighty justification’.

They said the combination of references to Christian values throughout the draft constitution and the public morality qualification on the non-discrimination provision gave rise to the risk that Cayman Islands courts will not necessarily follow the Strasbourg Article 14 case law in the absence of specific requirement in the constitution.

The report concluded: ‘The deliberate omission of reference to sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination in the Cayman Islands draft constitution is deplorable.

Despite the committee’s concerns, the wording of the constitution has been ratified by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in its existing form.