Governor gives views on civil unions

Governor Anwar Choudhury speaks to members of the press at his new home at Government House on Thursday. - Photo: Brent Fuller

Although he supports legalized civil unions for same-sex couples, new Cayman Islands Governor Anwar Choudhury has said that the definition of marriage contained in the local Marriage Law – as being between one man and one woman – will not change.

Mr. Choudhury’s comments were made during his first press briefing at Grand Cayman’s government house Thursday morning.

The new governor was questioned about a wide range of issues during the 45-minute briefing, including Cayman’s placement on a gray list by the European Union committee of finance ministers last year, maintaining safety and security in the islands, and the potential to legalize the recreational use of ganja.

However, a significant balance of the questions asked by reporters focused on whether Cayman would still move to legalize same-sex unions in the face of stern opposition. The move was supported by Mr. Choudhury’s predecessor, Governor Helen Kilpatrick.

The new governor – who has only been in Cayman since March 26 – said he believed a balance could be struck between achieving equality for the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and maintaining Cayman’s Christian values.

“I think we are looking at having that equality under the law through civil partnerships legislation, but I am also very sensitive and genuinely motivated to really listen to the views of everybody,” Mr. Choudhury said. “I hope we will be able to do that [referring to civil partnerships] because that brings equality under the law. That is what is expected of us.”

Civil partnerships are generally used in other countries to create a legal status similar to marriage for certain government functions.

For instance, one high-profile legal challenge to Cayman’s Immigration Law that centered on the ability of a homosexual man to remain here as a dependent of his male partner brought the issue into focus during the past few years. In such a case, a civil partnership arrangement could allow that cohabitation to occur without the need for the couple’s marriage to be legally recognized.

A number of Cayman Islands lawmakers, most vocally Deputy Opposition Leader Alva Suckoo and Savannah MLA Anthony Eden, have voiced opposition to such a plan. Those opposition members met with the new governor on Tuesday, but did not release details of what was discussed.

The debate over same-sex unions in Cayman has been a rancorous and long one. In August 2015, legislators debated a motion filed by Mr. Eden, titled “The preservation of traditional marriages” in which Mr. Eden admonished homosexual behavior, warning residents against the “satanic confusion” of homosexuality.

Mr. Suckoo seconded Mr. Eden’s motion and said, while he did not wish to “launch an assault on homosexuals,” in his Bible, homosexuality is a sin.

The legislative debates prompted Cayman Human Rights Commission Chairman James Austin-Smith to opine that the Aug. 13, 2015 debates by some assembly members amounted to “poisonous hate speech.” Mr. Eden then called Mr. Austin-Smith an atheist and urged the governor to remove him from the rights commission.

Later that year, Premier Alden McLaughlin told Legislative Assembly members that Cayman may have to eventually change its laws to acknowledge civil unions.

“This is a train that is not going to stop coming. It has long left the station,” he said in November 2015.

Governor Choudhury said Thursday that he believed, in a Christian country, some consensus could be found on legally recognized civil partnerships.

“Generally speaking, I think we do well on human rights here,” the governor said. “It is important that we have that conversation [about civil unions], but it’s also important to move with unity.”

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