Premier, human rights body clash on same-sex unions

The government cannot consider any request to recognize same sex unions, Premier Alden McLaughlin said in a letter to the Human Rights Commission that was made public on Monday. 

The letter, dated Oct. 21, 2015, was the premier’s response to one sent by Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission Chairman James Austin-Smith’s on Aug. 19, 2015, which was prompted by a Legislative Assembly debate on a private members’ motion on “the preservation of traditional marriages” on Aug. 13. Mr. Austin-Smith requested that the premier respond to the debate, and invited him to denounce “in the strongest terms” statements that targeted homosexuals, subjected them to ridicule or even potential abuse in the community. 

Mr. Austin-Smith also recommended that the government immediately introduce legislation to recognize same-sex unions and outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. 

The premier’s letter contained no mention of specific remarks made during the debate over the marriage motion, which was made by Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden and seconded by Bodden Town MLA Alva Suckoo. 

“This is an issue which has evoked great passion on both sides of the debate … there should be no surprise that the matter locally has had the debate that it has,” Mr. McLaughlin wrote. “The issue is not made any easier given that the government, even if it was minded to, currently has no mandate to alter the status quo was we have come to know it in the Cayman Islands.” 

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Mr. McLaughlin wrote that the government would consider the possibility of adjusting immigration policy to allow homosexual partners to live together in the Cayman Islands “even though they may not be able immediately to enjoy the menu of other rights enjoyed in jurisdictions that have legislatively recognized such relationships.” 

The premier wrote that he was advised that such an approach – adjusting the immigration policy without recognizing same-sex unions – “would be consistent” with a “gradual maturation” approach alluded to by the European Court of Human Rights in a case brought against Italy to determine whether it violated human rights law by failing to recognize same-sex unions. 

Responding to the premier’s letter on Nov. 16, Mr. Austin-Smith took issue with the statements made in the premier’s letter suggesting the European Court of Human Rights had agreed with the “gradual maturation” approach, or that the approach could even be argued here in the Cayman Islands as it was in Italy because the Italian government has already implemented a number of legal protections for same-sex couples. 

The “gradual maturation” approach, Mr. Austin-Smith said, is actually an argument that the European Court of Human Rights “specifically disapproved” when it ruled against the Italian government.  

“I have no doubt, particularly in light of the total absence even of any of the rights [currently afforded same sex-couples in Italy], that the Court would also rule against the Cayman Government if a case were brought today,” Mr. Austin-Smith wrote. “Can I invite you to reconsider the advice that you have been given? There should be no doubt about it – we are in breach of the law.” 

In his letter, Mr. Austin-Smith also disagreed with the premier’s suggestion that the government “has no mandate” to change the law as it relates to same-sex marriage, noting that the government had full power to pass laws for “the peace, order and good government of the islands,” including when complying with obligations under international law. 

“The government does not have to seek a referendum every time it wishes to pass a law and this issue is, respectfully, no different from any other, save that the need for legislation is so clear and immediate.” 

Mr. Austin-Smith said there could be “no ‘gradual maturation’ where people are abused and threatened with violence, even from within the government, when they ask for basic rights.”  

He wrote that the premier had failed to denounce statements made in the Legislative Assembly that, “amongst other things,” likened lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals to “pedophiles and those who practice bestiality,” and described them as “deviants,” “wicked,” “immoral” and “evil.” 

“Whatever our differences of opinion on the government’s legal obligations, I hope you can agree with me that this was deeply unpleasant abuse, likely to incite hatred and is worthy of condemnation in the strongest possible terms,” Mr. Austin-Smith wrote to the premier. “I encourage you at the very least to say so publicly.”

Click here to download Premier Alden McLaughlin’s response regarding recognition of same-sex unions.

Click here to download James Austin-Smith’s response to Premier Alden McLaughlin on the motion to retain the definition of marriage in the Cayman Islands.

Premier McLaughlin

Premier McLaughlin

Mr. Austin-Smith

Mr. Austin-Smith
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  1. I for one have always had a problem with people forcing other people to accept their lifestyle. I will never agree with this mentality. It is wrong to try and force people. That’s why there are borders. Resentment grows as the force grows.

  2. Referring to Human rights clash on same-sex union; I say the voting population of the Cayman Islands need to pay careful attention to who they vote for to have a seat in the legislative assembly, also:
    "THINGS NEED TO CHANGE" whereby Heads of "ALL GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS and DEPUTY HEADS" should be voted in every year or four years and not just stepping up the ladder to these positions.
    Too much of persons becoming BOSS and they; either are not Caymanians or Caymanians who simply cannot handle the job.
    This is the reason why we are getting people who are not from here fight against the Island with their "Want to be" rules.
    Not a soul to blame but the Government that we elect, no matter what party they exist from. They give away these government positions, then they want to question the authority of the employee after. What kind-a-foolish thoughts, when it was given to them by the Government bodies. No one to blame but our Government. No matter how much a Caymanian is qualified, he will be pushed aside by our Government bodies, stepped upon and the position given to someone else. So, as I see it take what ever come through the drain pipe.
    Every four years it become worse, we elect a Government without teeth who are afraid to question the background of persons who "nuh born yaw".
    Do we really think it will be any better in 2017? No it will not, because right now we have "Want to be Politicians, just hiding behind the screen hoping to get elected. Are any of them responding, on the media, making any suggestions or showing you where they stand? No they are not. So unless we have the right people at the top who can stand firm and say a square cannot go into a round hole, then nothing will change.

  3. OK, lets have a referendum and once and for all show that the Caymanian people is totally against this unearthly mutation. Mr Austin you can go sit down, asking our government to pass such a law without a referendum. Not in our LA!. What Mr Eden said was tame compared to what people are saying in regard to such a proposal. Don’t ask, don’t tell seem to be a liberal approach, be it seemly condoning..

  4. I wonder if Government made legislation against the kind of conduct and public behavior that was seen some years ago in George town, why the cruise ship was turned away from grand cayman. Would Mr Austin object to that?

  5. Perhaps on purpose, or maybe not, MLA Eden has brought to the surface a very important topic that indeed the public should discuss, and the government must address. The hatred, bigotry and prejudice that has surfaced is quite scary — especially when the majority of it seems to be coming from government leaders. Perhaps a public debate will help Mr. Eden and others who have ancient and outdated ideas on the subject become educated and understand that God has designed the blueprint for ALL mankind — a blueprint that includes many different kinds of people.

    Todays article and comments have opened my eyes to two significant issues: One, where are other elected officials on this topic? Is there not one of them who can stand up for the rights of ALL who reside in Cayman? Is there not one single group of LA members who are strong enough to stand up for equality? Is every single member of the LA so afraid of losing even one single vote during the next election that he will not vote for what is right? The prime minister said in his letter that there is no "mandate" for the government to adopt greater equality and inclusion. Really? While no actual referendum may have occurred, it’s nevertheless obvious that every time this topic comes up in the newspaper, the comments are overwhelmingly on the side of equality and inclusion. In all likelihood, the newspaper’s readership and commenters are a fairly accurate reflection of the general population. So to the members of the LA: Give us credit for being less provincial and backwards than you think we are. We are well aware that the year is 2015 — not 1700. Are you?

    Second, did I read Mr. McLaughlin’s comment correctly?
    "Mr. McLaughlin wrote that the government would consider the possibility of adjusting immigration policy to allow homosexual partners to live together in the Cayman Islands".
    Does this imply that it’s currently ILLEGAL for homosexual people to live together in Cayman? Please tell me that the Cayman Islands isn’t THIS backwards.

    This begs the related question: Should we be alerting the tourist community that it’s illegal for homosexuals to live/sleep together while on vacation, and therefore be subject to arrest? How would this be policed?