Stating its members were “shocked” by press reports of the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly’s debate on the definition of marriage last week, the Human Rights Commission accused certain MLAs of using their elected positions to espouse “poisonous hate speech and threats of violence” against homosexual men and women.
The five-member commission, in a press statement issued Thursday afternoon, said the use of elected office to “peddle inaccurate, vitriolic and thoroughly hateful misinformation” concerning the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community – an already maligned section of the public” – was disappointing, to say the least.
“Parliamentary privilege is just that – a privilege,” the commission’s statement read. “With it comes great responsibility. It was disappointing to see it so disgracefully abused last week.
“It is also a source of particular regret that, apparently, the overwhelming majority of members present at that ‘debate’ did not see fit to challenge these statements in any way,” the press release stated.
The “debate” referred to in the commission’s statement took place Aug. 13 on a private members’ motion filed by Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden which sought to confirm the definition of marriage in the Cayman Islands as between one man and one woman. The Cayman Islands Constitution Order 2009 already defines marriage as such, as does the Marriage Law.
Mr. Eden’s presentation on his motion, which he said was “based on Holy Bible evidence,” was not limited to a discussion of the definition of marriage. He also admonished homosexual behavior in general and warned people against “satanic confusion.”
Bodden Town MLA Alva Suckoo, who seconded Mr. Eden’s motion, said that while he did not wish to “launch an assault on homosexuals,” in his Bible, homosexuality is a sin, and he “shouldn’t be expected to support legislation that would allow sin.”
Finance Minister Marco Archer also spoke in favor of the motion during the debate, but in far milder terms.
In the end, 13 Legislative Assembly members voted in favor of the motion. Four members, Premier Alden McLaughlin, Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton, North Side MLA Ezzard Miller and George Town MLA Joey Hew, were absent for the vote. Speaker of the House Juliana O’Connor-Connolly also spoke in support of the motion following the debate, although the Speaker’s position does not get a vote in House proceedings unless to serve as a tie-breaker.
Since the vote, Minister Panton and George Town MLA Winston Connolly have sought to clarify their respective positions on the motion in various local media, but neither spoke during the Aug. 13 debate.
The commission congratulated Minister Panton for his “brave and principled” stand against discrimination, abuse and bullying “in the face of these venomous comments.”
In a letter sent to Premier McLaughlin on Wednesday, Human Rights Commission Chairman James Austin-Smith invited the premier to condemn “in the strongest possible terms the most unstatesmanlike, inaccurate, vitriolic and thoroughly hateful statements” made during the debate.
Mr. McLaughlin and representatives of his office were contacted for comment on the commission statements and Mr. Austin-Smith’s request, but the Cayman Compass had received no response from the premier by press time Thursday.
Those statements, according to Mr. Austin-Smith, included equating homosexuality with bestiality; equating homosexuality with pedophilia; claims that homosexual behavior was “wicked and immoral” and a “social and moral evil”; making personal threats of violence toward homosexuals; and suggesting that “crushing a baby’s skull and sucking their brains out had become a human right.”
“I was disappointed that not one member [of those present] appears to have challenged statements that were clearly false and, even if not actually calculated to incite hatred, were certainly likely to,” Mr. Austin-Smith wrote to the premier. “Had these statements been made outside the privilege provided by the Legislative Assembly, it is quite likely that they could have constituted the commission of a criminal offense.”
As he has previously, Mr. Austin-Smith urged the Cayman Islands government to take note of a recent ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that found Italy in breach of established human rights principles for failing to offer enough legal protection to same-sex couples. Italy is one of the few Western European countries that maintains a national ban on same-sex marriage.
The letter sent to the premier recommended that the government introduce legislation recognizing same-sex unions. Local laws currently forbid gay marriage but are silent regarding the formation of civil unions.
The government was also urged to introduce laws to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
“The time when individuals could be persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation has now long passed,” Mr. Austin-Smith’s letter to the premier read. The letter sought to receive a response from the premier on the Human Rights Commission’s concerns within seven days.