On June 28, two days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is a protected constitutional right, local LGBT activist Billie Bryan started a petition drive to change Cayman immigration law so that gay couples are granted the same rights as heterosexual couples.
“Across the U.S. we’ve been celebrating the news that love wins,” the petition reads. “Unfortunately here in the Cayman Islands it’s not the case.”
Couples in same-sex unions who wish to immigrate to Cayman are not granted the same rights as heterosexual married couples; spouses in heterosexual unions can be listed as a dependent on work permit papers. For gay couples to live in Cayman, both spouses must find employment before moving to the islands.
The petition, which can be found online on a digital platform called “ipetition,” had about 200 signatures as of press time Sunday. The goal is to gather 1,000 signatures, and Bryan plans to present the petition to the immigration department.
Acting Chief Immigration Officer Bruce Smith told Cayman 27 that petitioning the Immigration Department is “unlikely to be effective,” and that the petitioners would be better off addressing their letter to the Cabinet or the Ministry of Home Affairs.
But Bryan says the petition is not about effecting immediate change to the immigration law. Rather, she says it’s just the first step toward creating a “groundswell” of support for the LGBT community.
Bryan is working to garner such support in other ways, as well. She has spearheaded a campaign called Colours Cayman, which invites public venues on the island to pledge not to discriminate or tolerate discrimination against LGBT individuals. The businesses will display a rainbow decal so that LGBT persons know these venues are safe, welcoming spaces.
The country has made some changes since 1998 (when officials turned away a 900-passenger gay cruise); in 2000, homosexual acts were decriminalized. However, many in the gay community here and abroad still regard the Cayman Islands as hostile to them. In 2008, Cayman made international news when Royal Cayman Islands Police officers detained a 23-year-old American tourist for publicly kissing his male partner at Royal Palms.
During a lecture series at the Truman Bodden Law School in January, legal experts noted that there are several laws on the books which discriminate against gay individuals in Cayman. For example, the age of consent for homosexual activity is 18, while the age of consent for heterosexual activity is 16. There is also a lack of legislation to protects homosexuals from discrimination.
Speaking at the January lecture series, Robert Wintemute, a professor of human rights law at King’s College, London, said that such laws (and the lack of a law protecting homosexuals from discrimination), are in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. People in the Cayman Islands have the “Right of Individual Petition,” meaning that individuals can take cases of human rights violations to the European Court of Human Rights. Wintemute said the Cayman government is “lucky” that no one had done so yet, because the ECHR would have likely ruled against the government.
There is a case pending in the ECHR that could compel the Cayman Islands to legally recognize same-sex unions, but many hope that the Cayman government will decide to recognize same-sex civil partnerships before being forced to by an outside entity like the court.
Olivia Connolly, a law school student who helped organize the January lecture series, said it’s “great to see the petition happening now,” because she thinks it would be far better for change to come from within the Cayman government and society. She says such localized efforts for change would better reflect Cayman, and “Cayman wants to be portrayed as a modern country and a nation of progressive and modern people.”
Connolly signed the petition and left a comment: “I implore everyone, especially fellow law students, to sign this petition. No matter what your religious beliefs, the fundamental component of the rule of law is that we are all equal before it.”