EDITORIAL – Same-sex marriage: When is a ‘story’ not a story?

Cayman Compass is the Cayman Islands' most trusted news website. We provide you with the latest breaking news from the Cayman Islands, as well as other parts of the Caribbean.
Cayman Compass is the Cayman Islands' most-trusted news website. We provide you with the latest breaking news from the Cayman Islands, as well as other parts of the Caribbean.

In the Cayman Islands, perhaps the “highest-voltage” issue of the moment is same-sex marriage. While some jurisdictions have chosen to sanction legally such unions (or in the case of the United States, had that legality imposed by the courts), here in Cayman the topic continues to be a “third rail” issue most politicians dare not touch – not only out of fear of jeopardizing their incumbency, but also, simply, because most of Cayman’s electorate is against legalizing same-sex marriage.

Periodically, some individual or group (not beholden to the will of the majority) will poke at the hornet’s nest, hoping to prod governmental action.

Enter into the arena Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush, two women whose recent request for the right to marry in Cayman (denied by government) has ignited a firestorm in some media outlets, locally and abroad.

But not in the Compass – and for good reason. It raises a journalistic judgment question that we ask, and answer, many times a day, namely: When is a “story” not a story?

To date, the only “news” regarding Ms. Day and her partner Ms. Bush is that their application to marry was rejected. This is hardly surprising since Cayman’s law defines marriage as being between a man and a woman — not two women and not two men. The women have stated publicly that they intend to sue but, so far, they have not sued.

But there is a backstory to this non-story.

A Compass reporter has been in communication with the two women, who sought him out for coverage in this newspaper.

Compass editors became wary of this solicitation when the women later told the reporter the publication of any interview would have to be delayed because they had entered into an exclusive agreement with a British newspaper (The Independent) to tell their story.

The Independent story ran last week along with an essay penned by Ms. Day, who is an attorney. Further, in Cayman, a local website interviewed Ms. Day, who is quoted liberally and sympathetically throughout the story. The story was also “tagged” with information regarding how the public could contribute to help fund the women’s lawsuit.

This was beginning to look to us (in addition to being a “love story”) like an orchestrated public relations campaign to challenge Cayman’s marriage law.

(Tina Turner once famously sang, “What’s love got to do with it,” but such an interpretation is most likely unfair to the two ladies who appear to be commingling a genuine desire to marry with an activist cause they believe in. This is clearly not solely a “marriage of convenience.” The women have been in a relationship for six years and are raising a daughter together.)

In the end, motive makes little difference. The matter of same-sex marriage in Cayman won’t be determined in online forums, on barstools or, probably, even within the local Legislative Assembly. Barring an act of U.K. Parliament or Governor Anwar Choudhury (who, so far, has confined his comments on the subject to saying there should be a “conversation”), the likely venue for any change, or ratification, of Cayman’s marriage law will occur via the courts.

We want to emphasize, however, that both women are well within their “free speech” rights recognized in both the U.K. and the Cayman Islands. They have a right to say whatever and to whomever they wish in furtherance of their wish to marry, but, let’s be equally clear: No media, including the Compass, have any obligation whatsoever to champion, support or advance their cause.

When, and if, they file a formal writ for judicial review, Compass readers can be assured we will cover their lawsuit thoroughly, objectively and fairly.

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  1. What’s love got to do with it?

    The Compass asked this question in today’s editorial which mostly tosses aside the issue of same sex marriage, as does government for the most part.

    The truth is, Love has everything to do with it. Gay men and women on these islands should be afforded all of the same basic human rights as any other Caymanian. A committed couple should be able to live the same secure, honorable and established life as heterosexual couples do, should they choose to record their union under the laws of the land. As the saying goes, separate but equal is always separate and never equal.

    In regard to the Compass’ position on whether this is a story or not, I would like to point out that one of the fundamental aspects of prompting change is to publicize an example of an injustice in the press. The Compass hides behind the cloak of a “non-story”, but in whose opinion? The homophobic and secretive editorial board? Shouldn’t that decision be made by the readers? Shouldn’t the paper verify the facts and the print an unbiased report? Clearly peer pressure in government directs many votes, so why wouldn’t it be the same at the Compass. Remember polls cannot really be used to judge a community’s true belief or desires. Just ask Hillary Clinton or the No Brexit Boys about the accuracy of polls.

    Bringing the issue to the public is an important tactic to urge government to move, not simply retain the status-quo. After all, do you really think women would have gotten the voted if they had not rallied against the injustice? Do you really think that in America black people would have been given equal rights unless they pointed out the injustice, rallied, rioted, campaigned, wrote editorials, undertook endless interviews and boycotted businesses, politicians and organizations?

    It is unfortunate that Caymanians are forced to air their private business in public, but as long as some (and I mean some) politicians refuse to address the issue of granting them this basic human right there will be outcries from time to time when brave souls realize they can no longer accept injustice.

    Given the fact that there has never been a referendum on the issue, there is no real way to judge what the public wants.

    I would note most people concede there are many gay people and gay couples living in Cayman peacefully. This is quite a story in itself because I can’t recall one story in the Compass reporting the mugging of a gay person, firing by an employer, vandalism of a gay person’s home, burning of his or her car, denial of service in a restaurant, bar or hotel or any other significant occurrence other that denial of this human right.

    Mild mannered law-abiding Caymanians will never take to the streets, burn and pillage in support of this injustice, its simply not in their DNA. However overwhelmingly the average Caymanian is more concerned about what their (gay) neighbors do to maintain their homes, and communities than what they do in their bedrooms.

  2. Rodney Barnett is absolutely right. The Compass seems to have an issue with the possibility that the two women are “stage managing” the issue. Well, guess what? This is how social change comes about. When marches across the U.S. occur simultaneously, you think it isn’t stage-managed? Ditto for interviews and publicity. These women are smart, and I wish them the best. Soliciting donations for what could be an expensive fight is also smart. All the same things are going on in Bermuda. There, Carnival Cruises is even backing a suit. If the Bermuda government had any sense, they would reverse course and attempt to un-do some of the considerable damage they’ve caused themselves. If Cayman was smart, it would capitalize on Bermuda’s gaffe.

    The problem there, and here, is that the straight community needs to realize that gay marriage is in EVERYONE’s best interest. Why? Because, for those gays who have a partner and want to honor their relationship with marriage (and by the way, straights do NOT own the word “marriage”), there comes the feeling of true equality in the community, the feeling of leading open and honest lives, the feeling of wanting to participate in projects that better the community. In short, they are more likely to be CONTRIBUTORS, whether of time, money, or whatever. Gay marriage takes NOTHING away from the straight community (except state sanction of their bigotry). The straight community only gains from gay marriage, hard as it may be for some to understand this.

    For those who worry about gay “recruiting”, get over yourselves. I’ve met a lot of gay people in my life — I’m one myself — and every last one of them was born gay, not recruited. “Recruitment” is nonsense. As for religion, remember this: First, that there’s freedom of religion on these shores. No one is forced to be Christian. Indeed, our new governor isn’t Christian. And second, even in regard to Christianity, the Bible is amazingly elastic in interpretation. Cayman ministers may think they have the last word in interpretation, but that’s self-delusion. Indeed, modern interpretation of the Bible is in many ways very different from interpretation of ages past. The future will be full of change in interpretation as well.

    Finally, look at all the countries that have accepted gay marriage. In not one of them has the sky fallen in. Indeed, within a few months of the beginning of recognizing and performing gay marriage, the subject quickly fades from the news. Inevitably, the response to, “I’m gay and I just got married” becomes “Good for you, now tell me something newsworthy!” As for Cayman, my guess is that the people are a lot readier for the arrival of this day than the Compass seems to think. It’s just such a pity that our political leaders are so spineless that they won’t get in there and lead the way to the arrival.