A gay law professor and his husband are at the center of a possible test case, challenging the “unequal” treatment of homosexual couples in the Cayman Islands.
Leonardo Raznovich, who helped students at the Truman Bodden Law School organize a series of public lectures on human rights, including rights for homosexuals, was told in June that his contract with the college was not being renewed.
His British partner of 16 years has submitted an application to have Mr. Raznovich listed as a dependent on his work permit.
The Immigration Board indicated it did not have the power to accommodate the request, routinely approved for married couples of a different sex. Now the lecturer faces the prospect of being deported.
Mr. Raznovich and his partner, who were married in his home country of Argentina in 2012, plan to appeal the decision on the grounds that the differing treatment of same-sex couples is discriminatory.
Mr. Raznovich said he hoped government would “do the right thing” and move to address the situation without it going to court.
“If they go to court, what are they going to say? We want to discriminate against gay guys?
“The decent thing to do would be to remedy what the Immigration Board has highlighted, that there is no statutory framework to deal with these kind of applications.”
He said the European Court of Human Rights has already established that homosexual couples must be treated the same, in terms of their legal rights, as other married couples.
The court’s decisions extend to Cayman because of its territorial relationship with the U.K., meaning any appeal through the courts would likely be successful.
He has written to Attorney General Samuel Bulgin, urging him to address the situation and rectify Cayman’s laws to comply with the convention. As a lecturer at the law school, Mr. Raznovich was a government employee and part of the Attorney General’s Chambers.
The Immigration Board in its decision on the application from Mr. Raznovich’s partner, dated Aug. 26 and posted on a section of its website accessible to the applicant’s employer, wrote: “Due to the existing statutory framework, there is no specific provision(s) that would enable the CIO/Board to accommodate this request.”
Mr. Raznovich said the couple were waiting for the Immigration Board to confirm, in writing, that its apparent inability to deal with his application amounted to a de-facto rejection of the request, before formally launching an appeal.
In a significant decision in July, the European court ruled that Italy was in breach of its obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights because it did not have a statutory framework ensuring equal treatment for same-sex couples.
Commenting on that decision, James Austin-Smith, chairman of the Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission, said government needs to amend its laws or risk a successful legal challenge.
He said government has an obligation to “provide same-sex couples in stable relationships with the opportunity to access the same rights and obligations which married couples enjoy.”
The Human Rights Commission has recommended legal recognition of same-sex unions, though not necessarily gay marriage. This would serve to protect a number of rights and obligations that married couples have, including laws regarding financial support, child maintenance payments, inheritance and immigration.
The situation Mr. Raznovich is now facing was first brought to public attention in the public lecture series he helped to organize.
Visiting Professor Robert Wintemute of King’s College London, speaking at the lecture series in January, said several of Cayman’s laws and policies were out of step with the European Convention.
One such right, already established under the convention and therefore guaranteed to Cayman residents and citizens, is the right for same-sex partners to be treated the same as a married couple for immigration purposes, he told the Cayman Compass at the time. He said the Cayman Islands needs to change its Immigration Law to reflect this.
Mr. Raznovich, in his letter to the attorney general, raises the same point and highlights the Italian case as evidence that case law on the issue is already established.
“Without prejudice to any challenge to the legality of the Immigration Board’s decision in the particular circumstances in question, I hereby formally bring to your attention that the lack of legislation, as declared by the Immigration Authority, needs to be urgently redressed in order to prevent the Cayman Islands from continuing to breach the rule of law.
“If this situation is not rectified, when challenged in the courts, the applicant will ultimately be successful.”
Mr. Raznovich said his situation related to just one aspect of Cayman Islands law, where homosexual couples were treated differently.
“As it stands, if I am dying in hospital and a decision has to be taken on whether to turn off the machine, they will call my mother in Argentina, not my husband and partner of 16 years.”
Mr. Wintemute, in his lecture, said Cayman needs to either address the issues with a package of reforms or risk having it done for them by the U.K. or through a series of court decisions. He said, “It is difficult, if no one brings a case to the court, so there is no pressure from the courts and the political parties don’t see it as a priority, so nothing happens in the legislature.”
Neither Attorney General Bulgin nor Premier Alden McLaughlin responded to requests for comment by press time on Wednesday.