Amid continuing community protests, Bermuda held its first gay wedding last week, sparking renewed confidence among campaigners in the Cayman Islands that the territory could soon follow suit.
Bermuda was forced to change its stance on same-sex marriages after a landmark court ruling in May.
A judge in the British Overseas Territory ruled that Bermuda’s Marriage Act, which states that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, was inconsistent with the provisions of the country’s Human Rights Act, which prevents different treatment on the basis of sexual orientation.
The legal picture in Bermuda and the community debate, including substantial opposition to gay marriage from a largely conservative Christian population, is similar, though not identical, to that in Cayman. Bermudians voted overwhelmingly against gay marriage in a non-binding referendum last year.
But the courts intervened after Bermudian Winston Godwin and his Canadian fiancé, Greg DeRoche, challenged the registrar-general’s rejection of their application to marry on the island. Just weeks after that decision, in May, another gay couple took advantage of the change in the law to marry in Bermuda’s first same-sex wedding.
The changes in Bermuda have been forced through by the courts, rather than coming from the territory’s legislature. There remains strong opposition to same-sex marriage in Bermuda, with more than 3,000 people taking to the streets to protest the court’s decision in May.
Campaigners in the Cayman Islands have taken note of the changes in Bermuda and the manner in which they have been brought about.
They believe it will likely require similar action through the courts to change Cayman’s laws.
Leonardo Raznovich, a lawyer who won the right to be listed as a dependent on his same-sex partner’s work permit in a challenge to Cayman’s immigration procedures, said the Bermuda decision left the Cayman Islands among an increasingly small minority of British Overseas Territories that were not in compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The recent judgment in Bermuda is groundbreaking. It is influential from both a political and legal standpoint,” he said.
He believes the U.K. should intervene to compel Cayman and other non-compliant territories, including BVI and Turks and Caicos, to fulfil their “legal obligation” to create a framework for the registration of same-sex relationships.
“The U.K. government now has an even greater duty to step in and address the inequality that exists, and force the remaining recalcitrant violators of their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights to align their laws with those of the United Kingdom and of the majority of its British Overseas Territories,” he said.
The Bermuda court’s decision would be a “persuasive legal authority in the Cayman Islands,” if a couple were to seek to challenge the marriage laws here, he added.
Mr. Raznovich said it was a common misconception that Cayman’s constitution outlawed same-sex marriage.
The actual wording of the clause on marriage in the constitution is, “Government shall respect the right of every unmarried man and woman of marriageable age (as determined by law) freely to marry a person of the opposite sex and found a family.”
He said this simply affirms the state’s commitment not to interfere in marriages of heterosexual couples and does not constitute a ban on same-sex marriage.
He believes the constitutional ban on discrimination, for any reason, is far more valid in this case and would form the basis of a legal challenge, if a gay couple were denied the right to marry in Cayman.
Based on the Bermuda decision and on case precedent in Europe, which has established that states are required to have a framework for civil unions for same-sex couples conferring the same package of rights as marriage, he believes such a challenge would be successful.
Billie Bryan, founder of Colours Cayman, a grassroots organization which aims to help eradicate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, said the move in Bermuda was positive.
But she warned it would take similarly brave couples to challenge the law through the courts, rather than waiting for government to act.
“I’m fairly confident that Bermuda’s recent same-sex marriage ruling will indeed have a significant impact on the Cayman Islands and surrounding nations, if only by the mere fact alone that LGBTQ+ rights are becoming a more relevant issue every day and the continued global efforts to recognize them as having equal weight as any other human right only adds more pressure to governments such as ours to enact the necessary policies and legislation to support them.
“While the Cayman Islands government will remain silent on these issues, as it always has and as was much the case in Bermuda, it’s then largely up to those most at risk, such as myself, to speak up, act out and challenge our current system, before any significant change can occur.”