Updated Friday 9 a.m.: The Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly voted along party lines Thursday night against a motion that sought a referendum on whether the territory should accept same-sex marriages. All nine government members opposed the motion, while all opposition party and independent members supported it. The final vote was 9-8 against. 

Original story: Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin indicated Thursday that his ruling Progressives party-led government would block any attempt to hold a referendum on whether Cayman should change its law to accept same-sex marriages.

The premier’s comments were made after a private members’ motion filed by veteran Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden sought a public vote on the issue. Mr. Eden’s motion was filed following a controversial decision by an immigration appeals board to allow the same-sex partner of a work permit holder to remain in Cayman as a dependent on his partner’s permit.

Mr. Eden and a number of other lawmakers came out vehemently against the Immigration Appeals Tribunal ruling, claiming it was not in keeping with the territory’s laws.

The dependent partner referenced in the tribunal case, former Cayman Islands Law School professor Leo Raznovich, was in the public gallery during the Legislative Assembly debate Thursday.

Mr. McLaughlin said it is the government’s view that legislators would not approve changes to the local Marriage Law, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. On Tuesday, Cayman was given assurances by Overseas Territories Minister, Baroness Joyce Anelay, who spoke in the Legislative Assembly, that Britain would not force the overseas territory to change its law or constitution regarding same-sex marriages.

Given the current situation, Mr. McLaughlin said it appears pointless to hold a referendum on the issue before the May 2017 general elections.

“I know we are in that season [referring to the election campaign] and while I have no doubt … that the Honorable Deputy Speaker [referring to Mr. Eden] believes earnestly in the position he has articulated … I cannot be sure that [other lawmakers’] view this as anything other than a very good political platform from which to launch the next campaign,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

The premier said the elections office is already under “immense pressure” to move Cayman to a new single-member district voting system in time for May 2017, and that a referendum of any kind before that would be expensive and time-consuming.

“The government has to act responsibly and a referendum is not something that can be entered into lightly,” he said. “We do not believe that it will serve any useful purpose.”

Mr. Eden, while introducing the motion, said he was left uncertain by the British “assurances” the premier discussed.

During her address to the assembly Tuesday, Baroness Anelay said, “The British government has no plans to impose same-sex marriage in the Cayman Islands. However, I want to be clear that continued discrimination puts the Cayman Islands in breach of its legal obligations, so there is a legal imperative to change.”

“When I see veiled comments like this, I shudder,” Mr. Eden said. “Change what?”

Mr. McLaughlin said he believed Mr. Eden misread the baroness’s comments. He said it appeared to him the comments meant “a change in the way we treat people” rather than a change in legislation or the constitution.

Mr. Eden said he did not know what discrimination the baroness was speaking about.

“I’ve been in these islands for seven decades-plus,” he said. “There are those of that [homosexual] inclination. I don’t ever remember anyone persecuting any of these people.”

Independent lawmaker Winston Connolly supported the referendum during the debate, but for different stated reasons.

Mr. Connolly said he believes the country’s position on same-sex marriage might not be as simple as the premier and others indicated. Mr. Connolly said he supports equal rights under the law for all couples – whether heterosexual or homosexual. He said he does not believe the church should sanction same-sex marriages.

However, Mr. Connolly said the territory would not know the full views of the citizenry unless a public vote was held.

The motion debate continued after press time Thursday.